This two-part meditation is from an old sermon (2007) about an old problem– the sinful human heart. I did not update the illustrations, but the stories of the ‘mighty falling’ are always in the news. As you read this you may be reminded of more recent stories. But the main message here is not how the mighty fall, but how we are all fallen because of the sinful heart within each of us.
Imagine the downfall. One day, you are an elite member of one of America’s brightest and best teams, you have fulfilled your life long dream, and are an astronaut. You have been in outer space, you will probably go again. You have good friends, children you are crazy about, and a great future ahead of you. One day, you are on top of the world; and the next day, your police mug shot is on every news program and in every newspaper in the country.
The story of Lisa Nowak is certainly a sad and tragic one. Other than this recent bizarre aberration, she has been a model person, praised by everyone who knew her from childhood, until last week. She was bright, hard-working, helpful, caring, a good mother, and a wonderful co-worker. But something was going on in Lisa Nowak’s personal life that led to the unraveling of everything. She was first of all separated from her husband who, everyone said, is also a great person. She was apparently having an affair with another astronaut, a man who also having an affair with another woman. Lisa had a lot of pressure at work and at home, and who knows what else was going on. But for some reason, Lisa Nowak went over to that other woman’s house with the apparent intention to, at the very least, harm or kidnap her, and perhaps, says the prosecutor, even kill her.
I have been thinking about the reaction of many in the press. “How could it happen?,” they asked with shock and indignation. “How could NASA allow such an unstable person into their program? Don’t they screen them? Isn’t there some sort of psychological testing?” “Yes,” said one bright young investigative reporter, “but the testing is done only at the beginning,” he discovered. And everyone said, “Something has to be done so that something like this never happens again” What?
Think about the assumptions that lead to that kind of shock and surprise. Does anybody really think that a test can be devised that will guarantee that an individual will never have a moral failure? If such a test was possible, (and I don’t believe it is), it should then be applied first of all to presidential candidates. Think of the immature and embarrassing behavior of Bill Clinton, a brilliant and charismatic leader. Think of the paranoid behavior of Richard Nixon that led to his downfall. Think of the dangerous behavior of President Kennedy who was warned by aides about the risks posed to national security by him having an affair with a known East German spy. One could also begin to list the church leaders that have fallen, most recently the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, along with Jimmy Swaggert, Jimmy Baker, and a host of others. How can anybody be surprised anymore when the high and mighty fall? That is what has been happening throughout history.
“The bigger they are they harder they fall” is an old cliché because is an old problem. Who could be so naive as to think that psychologists could devise a test that would guarantee finding people that would not fall? Even if you could devise such a test, ruling out the mentally ill would have eliminated some of the world’s greatest leaders, including Martin Luther, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln, all of whom fit the bill for chronic severe depression bordering on mental illness. In the movie Animal House John Belushi said “Nothing is impossible for the man who will not listen to reason.” There is a bit of truth in that. Sometimes it takes a certain craziness to accomplish great things. But sometimes that same craziness will ruin everything. Who is going to devise a test that is going to get a handle on that so that the desired results can be guaranteed? Nobody, because the mind is too complex and life far too unpredictable.
(Note to Donald Trump– possible campaign theme song– Billy Joel’s 1980 hit You May Be Right which contains the words; “I crashed your party… You may be right, I may be crazy, but I just may be the lunatic you’re looking for.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cih0btgJw8s )
The Bible is much more realistic about these things. Remember all those passages about sin? Some folks think that the Bible is outdated because of such an emphasis on sin and guilt. Don’t they read the papers? Don’t they look out the door of their house, or even in their own home? Haven’t they looked into their own heart? How can one not see the effects of sin all over the place? Think of almost any scandal, crisis, or world problem, and without much trouble you can see a trail of sin leading to and from it.
Reporters were shocked that such an unstable person could get through the rigorous screening procedures at NASA. Soon there will be cries for more screening, more testing, more therapy, etc. It as if all we need is to get enough experts in on the process and these things would never happen, and life would not be so unpredictable. Do they think it is only unstable people who do dumb and wicked things? Did these reporters just arrive from another planet?
Here is something that sounds more realistic to me. It was written by Jeremiah, recording what the Lord has said to him 37 centuries ago. In Jeremiah 17:9 the Lord says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart…” The heart is deceitful… it is beyond cure… who can understand it? Who can understand why Lisa Nowak would ruin her good life by doing what she did? Or Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton or Ted Haggard– the list could go on and on. And a long list could also be made of Biblical failures: David committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed, Peter denying even knowing his Lord, Judas betraying his Lord, Moses losing patience with God even after so many miracles, Saul disregarding the God who made him king, the early Paul, hunting and killing the first Christians. This list also could go on and on. (continued…)
II Samuel 1:27a — How the mighty have fallen!
Jeremiah 17:9-10a — “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind.”
Genesis 6:5 — The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.