Tuesday, November 07 2006
"It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all. It comes direct from hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly. For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy's Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity--that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride--just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense." Mere Christianity
There is a great temptation for all of us in reflecting upon the recent "fall" of Ted Haggard. The temptation concealed in this episode is the temptation to pride.
I have read quite a number of responses to Haggard's sin and subsequent, seemingly reluctant confession. Out of all of these responses I see no one condoning Haggard's actions, nor should we. Some, who are pro-homosexual, while not condoning Haggard's lack of faithfulness to his wife and family, suggest that this is what comes of condemning homosexual practice and trying to keep it in the closet. They say in effect, "If we would just bring this practice out of the closet and encourage faithful homosexual relationships by sanctioning gay marriage, we would see less of the sort of problem displayed by Haggard's fall." I sincerely doubt this is the answer to the problem.
That response aside, the other responses to Haggard's fall generally fall (!) into two camps. There are those who say: "There but for the grace of God go I." And there are those who respond with some form of disgust or condemnation. My heart aches for those with the latter response, for I believe it conceals some form of spiritual pride. The person who cannot imagine engaging in sin at least as bad as Ted Haggard, either lacks imagination, or simply does not know his or her own soul very well. On the other hand, the person who responds with God's grace, with his "severe mercy", is, I think, the person close to the heart of Jesus. (For an example of the "severe mercy" response read Gordon MacDonald's blog at http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2006/11/the_haggard_tru.html.)
Let us not forget Jesus' own response to the woman caught in the act of adultery. To the prideful Pharisees Jesus said, "If any one of you is without sin let him be the first to throw a stone at her." At this, the older and wiser Pharisees withdrew first, and eventually the younger "hot-shots" even realized that they were not without sin. When Jesus was left alone with the woman he said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she replied.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:1-11)
In reflecting on the "fall" of Ted Haggard, I think the most helpful response is to reflect on our own sin in the light of God's grace revealed in Jesus. We need to think long and deep about this story in John 8 and Jesus' parable of the loving father in Luke 15. Perhaps then we will be better able to find grace in our own time of need and pass on that much needed grace to others.