Friday, July 20, 2012

Taking Down the Paterno Statue is about Atonement

Right now there are rumors and opinions flying around about what should be done with the Joe Paterno statue outside of Beaver Stadium at Penn State University. Some say take it down, and others say keep it up, but neither side is apathetic.

What is it about that statue that makes folks want to tear it down? Why are people discussing the NCAA putting the Death Penalty on PSU football? Why were Graham Spanier and the late Joe Paterno fired in the Fall? Why did Nike remove Joe Paterno's name from their child care center last Thursday?

These are complex issues, with no easy answers, but perhaps we can examine a few of the biblical themes that are swirling around here:

  • Righteousness: Joe Paterno did many good things for the Penn State community, donated millions, and contributed to the wealth and blessing of thousands. And yet this one sinful omission destroys his record, and THIS scandal is what he is remembered for. All of those righteous acts seem to be erased in the public's eye. Like an ink blot on a wedding dress, our eyes are drawn to this imperfection. 
  • Justice: Justice must be done for these victims! Folks are outraged at the coverup from the highest Penn State officials. What should be done? No amount of money or apologies or firings will restore the broken lives of these children, or clean up the shame that has come upon the University. 
  • Atonement: And so something must be done. SOMETHING. Metaphorical "blood" must be spilled. Heads must roll. People know and see these things intuitively, and this statue is one of the first items chosen for atonement. It represents the man, and by tearing it down, it is a punishment for the wrongs committed. Wrong has occurred, and justice must be done. 
Do you see how CLOSE people are to understanding the gospel?? 

We may have done many righteous things, but whatever wrong is on our record overshadows all the good. We can never measure up! In the courts of God, compared to HIS perfection, we stand condemned. And so justice must be done! We have failed God's standard, we have rebelled against Him, and we have belittled His glory and His name. What must be done to atone for these great sins? We must die. Our blood must be spilled. Atonement must be made. 

And here is where the gospel of Jesus begins to shine so brightly! Jesus was the only human ever to live that was completely RIGHTEOUS. Oh how we long for a leader that is GOOD! Jesus never committed rape, never covered up sin, never slandered, never lied, never lusted, never was prideful, and never was selfish. And yet! He did not receive the just blessing that He deserved, but rather suffered unjustly the death of a criminal by crucifixion on the cross. He was shamed, humiliated, even though He was the only one worthy of receiving true honor. But Jesus' death on the cross was the atonement for OUR sin. He dies our death, His blood is spilled in our place. This is the gospel! We get His righteousness, He gets our justice, and His death is our atonement. We are forgiven and reconciled to God! 1 Peter 3:18 says "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God"

Here's the challenge: In all this talk of righteousness, justice, and atonement, please see the gospel. Remember the gospel. See how these themes are wrapped up in the cross of Jesus Christ. Give Him glory for how He has saved YOU, and then in your joy share that amazing good news with others.

Glorying in the atonement of Jesus Christ,
The Relentless Fight

UPDATE 7/23/12: Wow, so much has happened since this post on Friday 7/20. Mainly the removal of the Paterno statue on Sunday morning (empty space pictured below), and the NCAA sanctions this morning, the latter which resulted in students' jaws literally dropping in shock.

What do we make of these new events? What biblical themes do we see afresh?

  • Punishment without Restoration: The removal of the statue and the NCAA sanctions are swift and severe punishment. Yet our hearts are not healed. It shows that we demand a penalty for the crime. But! It doesn't heal. It doesn't restore, and folks sense this emptiness. Yes, "blood" has been spilled, but it just doesn't seem enough.... It is justice with no mercy. Consider the contrast in the Cross: God punishes His Son for OUR sin, thus delivering justice. Yet this justice is restorative to us, as the Cross sets aside our record of debt, reconciles us to God, and gives us new life in Christ.
  • Injustice and Scandal: Many students' reactions seem to focus on the injustice of punishing the student athletes, the school, the town economy. It's a scandal! And yet, let's consider this in contrast to the Cross. With Penn State, one man's sins are being paid for by many people who had no involvement. But what is the Cross? ONE truly innocent Man is unjustly punished for many sins! You wanna talk about injustice and scandal?? The God whom WE sinned against bears OUR punishment and is murdered by an angry and envious mob. He didn't just have his statue taken down or his alma mater affected... He was shamed and stripped naked. He had nails driven through His hands and feet. He had a spear thrust through His side. THAT is a scandal. And yet it's the greatest news in the world, that through the scandal of the Cross we might be forgiven of our many sins. 
  • Idolatry and Worldly Sorrow: The great critique has been that the PSU leadership upheld the glory of the football program to such an extent that they were willing to sacrifice children and cover up abuse. Is this not idolatry? Does it not remind you of the child sacrifices to the Ammonite god Molech? Idolatry requires sacrifices. Even the NCAA recognizes that there is a culture of honor and protection for the football program that led to the coverup of this abuse. But here is the deeper sadness of this idolatry: Now that the idol has fallen, people's hearts are unchanged! Yes, people are sad, tears are being shed, but doesn't it seem like this whole thing is STILL about football? The apostle Paul makes a distinction in 2 Corinthians 7 between worldly sorrow and godly grief. Worldly sorrow is when our idols fail us and we are left devastated. End of story. Godly grief is when our idols fail us and we recognize that we have been foolishly worshiping a false god, which causes us to repent and turn back again to the living God in contrition, appealing for mercy. Only the Holy Spirit is able to bring godly repentance, and so let us PRAY earnestly that God would use all this sadness to cause some to turn back again to the living God. Because of the Cross, we are able to cast away our idols to receive forgiveness and freedom.

Here's the challenge, again: SEE the biblical themes. SEE the superior glory of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Rejoice in it, and share it with others. 

More and more amazed at the glory of the Cross,
The Relentless Fight