Sin, Penn State, and the Gospel

This week’s revelations about the football program at Penn State are beyond troubling. Joe Paterno was an icon of virtue in college football. He and his program did things the right way—that is, until he looked the other way.

The devastating, horrific story has been chronicled in the national media. Paterno testified before a grand jury that he had heard of a sexual assault by Jerry Sandusky, one of his assistant coaches, on a young boy. He then reported that incident to other leaders in the university, as required by law, but he told no one else and did not talk with his assistant about the alleged incident. He now says he wishes he had done more. Paterno’s actions, or more specifically, his inactions, produced a cry of outrage and shock across the country. Penn State has fired both Paterno and the university president. The investigation is ongoing. According to the grand jury reports, at least eight boys were preyed upon by Sandusky.

There is a universal outcry against what happened at Penn State. Everyone appears to agree that a disgusting, wretched wrong has been committed against the backdrop of Penn State’s integrity. The school that had it right has produced a culture that allowed unspeakable wrongs to flourish.

But the question I propose is this:  why are the actions of an assistant coach and subsequently, the actions of those in leadership at Penn State, wrong? And if these actions are wrong, what is the basis for determining they are wrong? Parents, this is a question of utmost importance in teaching your children to live for God. Let me explain.

Are these actions wrong simply because there is moral outrage against them? Or are they wrong because these actions are first and foremost horrific sins committed against the Lord of Heaven and Earth? I have not heard the word sin even once in connection with this story; crimes, wrongs, scandal, abuse, violation, rape—yes, we have heard those words—but not sin. And I don’t expect that the media will use the word sin to describe the evil that has brought down Paterno’s empire. Why not? Because sin implies accountability to someone or something above the court of public opinion. Even when confronted by vile, perverse acts, such as those connected with this story, man continues to attempt to suppress the truth that both the laws of God and the person of God have been sinned against.

You see, if we acknowledge that God’s law has been violated, then we have to deal with all of God’s law. Our modern moral climate will allow for almost any negative description of these events except the one that matters most:  sin. Countless passages talk about sin, about offenses against God. Psalm 51 and Romans 1-3 vividly describe that man’s biggest problem is his sin against a holy God.

The stories of the evil at Penn State don’t mention God and his holiness at all. Our culture believes that we ourselves are the source for knowing right from wrong. We are accountable only to ourselves. Thus, we don’t need God to determine right from wrong—that’s what public opinion is for. If you think this judgment is too harsh—think again. The functional authorities, our sports commentators and political pundits, are saddened by the current scandal. Some are even publically weeping over the vile acts committed against the victims of a predatory coach and the cowardly indifference of trusted educators. Their reaction is appropriate—but it is too selective. Too many other sins are callously overlooked. For example, where are the outcries against the millions of children who have been robbed of life in their mother’s wombs? Where are the outcries against the pressure exerted on young women and men by many educators and by the cultural elites to engage in sex outside of marriage?

Let’s expand the field of our awareness of sin. Where is the outcry against ascribing the glory of God to the feeble endeavors of man? We think we can control the planet and our own future. We think we can make ourselves financially secure. We believe we can live and speak as we please. These sins, too, are heinous before God, and the list could go on and on.

Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and others sinned against God. Yes, Sandusky broke criminal laws and Paterno broke a moral trust, but, primarily, they sinned against God. Until this is realized and acted upon, their sins too, will one day become as accepted as abortion and sexual immorality are now. If you need a reminder of this reality, check out Genesis 19. If there is no fear of the Lord of Creation, if sin is not called sin, then the court of public opinion will come to rule your life and the lives of your children.

Teach your children about sin. Teach your children to fear God and shun evil. Teach your children to seek forgiveness from God. They will not be judged by the court of public opinion; they will be judged by a holy, jealous God. Teach your children that this is why the gospel matters, for them and for their children’s children.


Shepherd Press