pain

What can we learn from the Josh Duggar scandal?

By now the entire Christian community is aware of the Duggar debacle. Josh Duggar, son to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, has not only been found out for his despicable acts of molesting five girls in 2002, but also his name turned up when hackers released stolen customer data from cheating site AshleyMadison.com earlier in the week. So far social media celebrity, Matt Walsh, has apologized for giving Josh a pass after the molestation revelations. Walsh used his gigantic platform to treat Josh as a victim of leftist propaganda. If I could summarize Walsh’s first reaction, it would be like this: “Yes, he sinned, but don’t you see why the left is making such a big deal out of this? This is a selective political sniper kill.” The good news is that Walsh’s most recent statement has been very clear in his criticism. Here is a lengthy quote:

So I was wrong about Josh Duggar being a repentant man. Clearly, he isn’t. Or at least he wasn’t. Maybe now he’ll finally begin the process, but it’s certainly impossible to believe that someone could be truly sorry for past sexual sin while currently in the process of fishing for affairs and “experimental” one night stands.

He’s a traitor to his family. I feel awful for them, and I pray that Josh really does come to Christ. Beyond that, I pray his wife and kids somehow recover from all of the shame Josh has brought upon them. Because, let’s be clear, if you sign up for an adultery website and then your information gets hacked and your family ends up embarrassed and devastated — that is YOUR fault. You are the one who victimized them. The hackers acted illegally, but this all happened because of your choices. Don’t want your information stolen from an adultery website? Don’t sign up for an adultery website. Pretty simple formula.

I must also admit that the more I think about this, I realized I was too easy on the the Duggar parents as well. Jim Bob and Michelle knew that their oldest son was struggling with severe sexual sin, they knew their daughters had been abused, they knew their family was in the midst of moral and spiritual turmoil, yet they STILL decided to put themselves and their children on TV for ten years.

I hope others will take the same path and recognize that no matter what royal family one is born into and no matter the influential position he may have in the culture war, no man should be exempt from the lawful discipline of the Church or state, or both.

I concur. Josh Duggar is guilty. Repentance bears fruit (Lk. 3:8). There is a long continuous pattern of sexual misconduct  by Josh Duggar. At this point we should stop and think why are we so comfortable giving a pass to these Christian celebrities? And then we should consider very carefully how we can begin fighting passionately to protect the many victims in our culture who suffer at the hands of such men, but yet are trivialized into a category of “wrong place and wrong time.” Where is the safest environment for them to be restored and emotionally healed from such torments? Who will care for their trauma? The difference is vast.

I am deeply saddened for Josh’s wife and children who will have to live and re-live these awful events due to hyped media attention. As for Josh, words of contrition only go so far. His next few years will prove whether his repentance is genuine or not. I have learned long ago that not all sin is created equal. Repentance can be easily couched in evangelical lingo. Those who defended Josh Duggar without second thought or who assumed his initial incoherent words of confession made everything just fine or who treated repentance like some nebulous concept divorced from the reality of the pain caused to victims will hopefuly have learned a significant lesson: God is not mocked. Sins are not inconsequential. This is not a left vs. right issue. This is an issue of morality  and God has made clear that his justice will not be in vain. Josh Duggar affirmed that, “He is the biggest hyprocrite ever.” But hypocrisy can only be dealt with by understanding what God hates and what he loves.

Paul spoke of temptations that are stunningly difficult to face. When he says “flee from temptation” he is not simply using a 1st century  bumper sticker. This is more profound. Paul’s context is an ecclesiastical one where confession and collective sorrow manifests themselves continually in a community of grace. But even then sin is subtle. You must flee temptation, but you must first understand what temptation looks like. Yahweh speaks about the seven sins that he hates and provides this list as a step-by-step calculation made by those who embrace evil:

16 There are six things which Jehovah hateth; Yea, seven which are an abomination unto him:

17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood;

18 A heart that deviseth wicked purposes, Feet that are swift in running to mischief,

19 A false witness that uttereth lies, And he that soweth discord among brethren.

Duggar’s long history of sexual perversions was not born after a particularly miserable day. There is a pattern of thought and action. There is an anatomy of evil involved. There is a whole-body determination to follow these sins from the eyes to the feet. There is a calculated narrative that culminated in sexual abuse and adultery. For those who do evil the feast of the wicked is incredibly appetizing. One drink leads to another and only increases the hunger.

Where do we begin then? If situations like this do not cause us (particularly men) to be ever cautious then we will not have learned from it. Every person’s crime is a reason to re-consider our strategies to fighting sin and living righteously. If I had five minutes to counsel Josh I would tell him to look at this list and begin to detail where his narrative went awry. Where and when did his eyes become arrogant and haughty? At what point did he think he was invincible? At what point did he rationalize the presence of God away from his actions in secret? Then, when did he begin to put into words his pride by lying about his reality? I would be sure to point him to Jesus; not the Jesus that dismisses sins, but rather takes them with utmost seriousness and urges him to put on Christ and put off the deeds of darkness.

Josh needs to re-consider this list. He needs to see grace as redeeming the mind and abolishing calculated plans for evil. God has plans of his own. His plans involve demolishing our plans and replacing them with plans that are good, true, and beautiful. The task is great. Josh is only a clear example due to his high profile status. There are many Joshes out there currently afraid that they may be found out; afraid that their secret adventures will come out in Duggar fashion. The good news is God has already found you out. The bad news is that God has already found you out. In the end of the day to be found out by God is the best news. His throne is justice. He makes no mistake. His discipline will hurt, but it will not damn you. Accept it. Receive it. Confess it. Find refuge in Him.

Dear Sister: Response on Forgiveness

Dear sister,a

You have stated that the common view of forgiveness indicates that you are supposed to forgive the man who harmed you physically, psychologically, and perpetually as you go about your day. Though you are no longer under his control–thanks be to God–you still suffer the immense pain and agony by re-living those moments every time–or almost every time–someone uses certain language, when someone jokes about abuse, when someone sounds like an abuser, and when someone trivializes that abuse. So, you are told, suck it up! Live with it! Move on and forgive him.

My responses to these requests are meant to be brief, but to the point. Forgiveness is not a dispensing machine. An abuser cannot simply press a button and demand that you act accordingly. So, principle number one is that if the abuser demands forgiveness from you and acts as if he deserves it, tell him that you are a human being and that you will not be treated like a machine. Forgiveness, if you wish to be theological, is covenantal.

Forgiveness is complex at this level. Not all relationships are created equal. At the very least, this conversation between victim and abuser can only be initiated if said abuser has changed his ways, proven that he has suffered the consequences of his actions, has placed himself in a community where his sins are known, and if the case involves sexual abuse, that he not be working near any children. If those conditions are met, then by all means begin the conversation if you are prepared. But though he may be ready to proceed and though the conditions are met, make sure that you are surrounded by a safe community, with a pastor (s) that understand the severity of the damage done and have agreed to walk with you through this process.

Dismiss any comment from counselors who make you feel guilty for suffering such abuse. Better yet, run away from them.  You may think you have found an advocate, but you really are dealing with someone with little capacity to understand the depths of human pain. I pray you will find a voice of reason in a sea of miserable counsel.

Yours truly,

Uri Brito

  1. These names will remain anonymous  (back)
How Can Christmas Be Merry When I Am Grieving?

How Can Christmas Be Merry When I Am Grieving?

My three-year old son and I have a wonderful little work we do on Mondays and Thursday evenings. Our neighbor, who is a widow, no longer possesses the balance and strength to take her garbage can out. We head to her back yard and my son’s little hands grasp the garbage handle and out we go to drop it off at the curb. It is great training in service. And he is a true little gentleman already.

But something different happened this past Thursday. Our neighbor asked us to go inside and plug something in she was not able to do, which we did promptly. On our way out my boy looked at her and said “Merry Christmas.” She smiled at him, but as he rushed to get on his bike, our 86 year old neighbor looked at me and started to cry. Her husband, a dear man, and a grandfatherly figure to my children, died last year. “Don’t ask me to have a merry Christmas. I don’t know if I can,” she said. Her words were piercing. Her grief evident. Her husband of 60 years was no longer here with her. Her comfort and joy had departed.

And then last night we were struck again. In the middle of a cheery evening, my cell phone rang. The number was foreign to me, but I decided to pick it up anyway. It was my old college professor. She and her husband both taught my wife and I in a small Christian College in Central Florida. Since retiring, they both moved to beloved Pensacola, Fl. Once in a while we see each other and exchange greetings and memories. Last week, while visiting my chiropractor, she was there. It was a delight to see her again. She told me about her husband and how it would be lovely if we met for lunch one of these days. Then last night, that foreign number was hers. She called me to let me know that her husband of more than 50 years past away two days earlier.

My sister-in-law told us it was a difficult day for her and close friends who lost a loved one of 19 years of age. Death’s sting lost much of its potency, but its affects are very present.

How can Christmas be merry for those who are grieving? We often overlook those grieving this time of the year. In the midst of the grand narrative of the nativity, the incarnation of joy is reason for sorrow.

No more let sins and sorrows grow…

There is a paradoxical dimension to Christmas. In one sense, the “hopes and fears of all the years” are met in the God-man. But sorrows are still here. Incarnation theology always needs to be connected to a healthy psalmic lament. Our lives provide plenty of moments of disorientation. A loved one who dies days before one of the most festive days in the Christian calendar offers a lesson to all of us. The light of the world is here. The life of the world is here, but still death is not fully destroyed. The “tidings of comfort and joy” may be for some of us an exhortation to become comfort and joy to those who are comfortless and filled with grief this time of the year. Who are these people? Who are they in our own congregations? That mother who lost a son and whose memories are still freshly imprinted? That widow or widower who lost a lover and comforter? Who are they? Let us seek them out. Do not let their grief be a lonely grief. Only grieving together makes grieving a profoundly biblical emotion.

I weep for those whose loved ones are not here to share in the feast of the Christmas season. But Christmas is not just a message for the jolly; it is a message for the grieving also. Christmas means that grieving is not meaningless. In fact, grieving only makes sense in a world incarnated by God. Christ came for those who grieve. As the Psalmist cries out:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;

my eye is wasted from grief;

my soul and my body also (Psalm 31:9).

The incarnation answers the Psalmists’ petition.

Frederick Buechner once wrote that “The incarnation is a kind of vast joke whereby the Creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers… Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken.” Those who are scandalized rightly by this profound event are those who can grieve rightly.

As I look across the street I notice that my neighbor’s sons have arrived. They will help her in her grief. The merriness of Christmas is not dependent on whether we are ready to receive it or not, Christmas is merry because the Rod of Jesse is here. But still our hearts ache and we are called to grieve with those who grieve. We grieve, however, with hope because our hope is here. And so we pray:

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Pleasing God

Pleasing God

Guilt. Shame. Pain. While we undergo these emotions from time to time, some undergo them more consistently. This endless cycle is stifling. Sometimes these are the result of deep sin in our lives. Guilt, shame, and pain can be gifts of God to bring us back to our theological senses. But usually they are the result of a poorly thought view of God.

In the Fundamentalist traditions guilt serves as an antidote to a life of poor discipline. If you didn’t read your Bible, here is a good dose of guilt to get you back on track. Sons and daughters will receive a healthy dose of guilt theology in their first 18 years. The intentions, though noble, are usually disastrous. Pastors and parents instill a vision of perfection; a vision that is unattainable. Children grow up then with a profound sense of worthlessness. Pietism becomes a form of life. Pleasing God becomes wishful thinking.

The other element is shame. We feel ashamed often. Like Adam, we try to hide. We hide knowing fully well that God knows our ways and even the hairs on our head. But still we hide. It is the common reaction of those who have done wrong; and of those who think they have done wrong. Adam sinned and he knew it. But sometimes we do not sin and do not know that we have not sinned. Do you see that point in the list of negations? Sometimes we do not sin, but our view of God causes us to think we have. This leads to shame. Sometimes there is genuine shame. We ought to feel shame for our wrong-doing. We should not boast in them. But I am referring to the false shame many of us are prone to feeling. We flee from God. We act naked when we are fully clothed. We bombard ourselves with false accusations. But in reality we are being self-deceived.

Finally, we feel pain. Helpless pain; a kind of mental dark room. The pain is real, but the reason behind the pain is not. I remember a friend who faced tremendous stomach pain before bed because he feared that God would harm him for something he did long ago.

All of this comes from a genuine desire to please God. But in the process we have formed an image of God that is not scriptural. Further, a view of God that can literally cause pain.

The Christian life is replete with difficulties. The Christian is already the center of abuse for what he says and believes. His life is a direct contradiction to most of the philosophies of this age. Yet, we build on that difficulty with unreasonable expectations. We run around wearing ourselves. We fail to see the shalom of God. We have no rest. We view God our Father as God our tyrant. DeGroat observes that “God’s faithful commitment to bringing about peace in our hearts opens up the possibility for us to relax into the arms of the faithful, attentive, emotionally available Father.” a

How do we please God? We begin to please Him by knowing who He is. Far from a God that dances around your grave, He is a God who dances with you. He does not seek your death. He is your life. Our cares matter to Him. We cast them in full assurance that He sees them and will answer them well.

We can please God with our lives. Our minds can be renewed. We can become God’s pleasing sacrifice (Rm. 12). We are to be daily models of repentance, as Luther once stated, but then there is also freedom through the Son of God. In Him, our guilt and shame was placed. We are united to Him in our pain because He has already endured pain for us.

  1. Chuck DeGroat, Leavign Egypt, 116  (back)