I love a good upset. Many of us still remember the voice of Al Michaels broadcasting the US victory over USSR in the 1980 Olympics which was called “the Miracle on Ice.” Joe Namath predicted that his Jets would defeat the Colts in Super Bowl III, and they did 16-7. One of my personal favorites occurred a few years ago, as my alma mater University of Louisiana-Monroe beat the University of Arkansas in football. It was called “the shock in Little Rock.” They made T-Shirts to commemorate the occasion.
These kinds of victories are unlikely and are thrilling when they occur. But, not so much for the losing team.
The people of Israel were coming off a tremendous victory at Jericho. They processed around the walls, blowing trumpets and shouting. The Lord assured them victory but gave them one stipulation: don’t take the devoted things from the Lord. If they did, “you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it” (Joshua 6.19).
A man named Achan did not listen to this prohibition but instead took some things without the knowledge of the others. His actions caused great collateral damage when the people of Israel took on Ai, a seemingly easy opponent. Even the spies for Joshua told him that it was going to be an easy win, so don’t send the whole army. When the battle was over, Ai had killed 36 men and caused anxiety in the camp: “At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water” (Joshua 7.5).
Joshua initially blamed God for the defeat, but soon realized that there was “sin in the camp” thanks to Achan. Achan’s sin was discovered and he and all he owned were taken to the Valley of Achor, meaning “trouble.” In a Hebrew play on words, “achor” was coming upon “Achan.” He had to face terrible consequences and a bitter twist of irony. The sin he had covered up would now cover him up.
The question Joshua asked him in the Valley is a pointed one: “Why have you brought this trouble on us?” (7.25)
This past week we have witnessed some terrible, surprising news. Jared Fogle had a wonderful success story. He lost over 400 pounds at the University of Indiana following the “Subway diet.” He was hired by the sandwich company to be their spokesperson and had an ad campaign built around his success. Fogle started a foundation to help obese children and served an inspiration as a seemingly ordinary person who had “made it” in terms of weight loss. However, he was hiding a terrible secret. Since 2007, he had been using the internet and social networking sites to arrange meetings with underage girls for sexual activity. It’s been a shocking and disappointing discovery, with Subway simply tweeting: “Jared Fogle’s actions are inexcusable and do not represent our brand’s values. We have already ended our relationship with Jared.”
Then, there’s reality TV star Josh Duggar. Earlier this year, he was forced to apologize after reports emerged alleging improper contact with girls which included his sisters. Many prominent Christian leaders came to his defense, citing he was the victim of anti-Christian bias.
Now he is apologizing after being outed as one of 32 million people who used the cheating website Ashley Madison. Duggar said, “I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and I became unfaithful to my wife.”
Both Fogle’s and Duggar’s actions are inexcusable and harmful to many, many people. The surprising nature of these disgusting actions have impacted not only their own future but also those who believed in them. Sadly, this isn’t the first time things like this have happened and it won’t be the last.
It’s easy to condemn actions like this. They should be condemned. But, for those of us in the Christian community, they should give us reason to pause and think about areas of our own lives that are not as they should. It is easy to focus on sins that we don’t have trouble with but more difficult to face those that are present in our own lives.
We are all sinners. The Bible makes that clear. What has frequently given me heartburn is the number of us Christians who take an exalted stance in our morality while hiding secret sins. It’s no wonder the church is having credibility problems. These sins don’t stay hidden forever, and as I write this I am mindful of my shortcomings. This recognition has made me more sympathetic and cautious in offering criticism to those who are genuinely seeking to live a better life, but “slip and fall” along the way.
There is an appropriate way to deal with sin. It has to do with confession. It’s not easy to do, which is the main reason we choose to hide our transgressions. The cycle of Genesis 3 played itself out in Achan’s actions and subsequently appears in ours as well: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3.6). The result of this action was fear, as Adam responded to God’s first question “Where are you?” with “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (v.9).
I saw. I desired (lusted). I took. I ate. I hid. It’s the same formula at work today, and it impacts each and every one of us.
I’ve been given some thought to Joshua’s question to Achan, “Why have you brought this trouble on us?” Achan’s actions had brought 36 deaths in the community and demoralized the morale of his people. His sin impacted an entire community as they were brought into “the Valley of Trouble” to confront Achan. The consequences were serious and terrible.
While many of us might not have heard about the Ashley Madison website (and that’s a good thing), there may be things that we are hiding which affect others in an adverse manner.
I’ve been a pastor for some time now, and I have seen the terrible affect that sin can have on a community of faith. Spiritual and emotional immaturity can be imported into the church. Sometimes pastors are to blame for this. We can displace the frustration and disappointment we have in our own lives onto the faith community, and at times the faith leaders. If not addressed properly, the level of trust will be diminished and the level of fear/anxiety will increase. There is always a correlation between trust and fear. The higher the trust, the lower the fear level. And vice versa.
For all the conversation about growth and the decline of the church, let us also take time to address the health of congregations. Let us recognize that our own attitudes, actions, and transgressions can have a positive or negative impact on the community of faith. And, may we have the courage to take the descent into the “valley of trouble” to confront our own sinfulness. Fortunately, we don’t have to remain there.There is forgiveness and restoration available through Christ. God’s people can come out of that valley with a greater appreciation for our own mortality and need for grace, and in so doing extend those blessings to others.