I am sitting at my computer on the Saturday of Easter weekend thinking about the past week in Alabama politics and in the life of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. This is of course the day after Good Friday, the day we, as Christians, celebrate Christ dying for all of our sins, the veil in the Temple being torn in to giving man direct access to God. Tomorrow is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the grave, His victory over sin, over death and over Satan.
Last Sunday the church celebrated Palm Sunday remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the adoration of thousands. On Friday those who celebrated his entry and had hailed him as King turned on him and called for his crucifixion, preferring that a common thief and murderer be freed in his place.
Today, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday I find myself asking has the church and have Christians forgotten the meaning of the story we celebrate during Holy Week. I have witnessed some of our Governor’s staunchest supporters turn on him. Many of his early supporters who are now hurt and disappointed in his failure calling for his resignation or impeachment. The stories seem juxtaposed against one another and seem to beg the question – do we believe what we celebrate?
At this point let me state, I am not an apologist, nor a long time Robert Bentley supporter. In his first election I publicly supported his opponent, Bradley Byrne. During the six years he has served as Governor there have been several times he and legislative leaders have clashed on policy issues. I can’t recall a single time I sided with the Governor during one of these debates. Please understand the thoughts shared here are not those of the last Bentley fan still standing. They are more a reflection on my personal faith and a recognition that if the Gospel is true for me then it must be true for everyone.
The message of the Gospel isn’t that you can live a better life following Jesus – the message of the Gospel is you cannot live without following Jesus. Our struggles and failures should constantly remind us how desperately we need Christ, unfortunately our perceived successes too often convince us instead of how well we are doing on our own.
Sin is a strange thing. It’s a failure that we more quickly recognize in others than we do in ourselves. We have a tendency to understand our failures and excuse what leads us to fail. We also have a tendency to be deeply offended by those who sin differently than we do. Their sin just seems so much worse. If we are honest with ourselves and consistent with biblical teaching, we discover we are all in the same boat sinful and – short of the glory of God.
Our Governor has spoken regularly of his faith. I believe it is real. His regular references to his faith have made this a much more bitter pill for some to swallow. How does a man who claims to believe what he claims to believe or be who he claims to be do these things? I don’t know the answer to that – I know, sometimes though, how I get into those situations where my beliefs and my actions are not consistent. I ask myself, how can I do this, then I’m reminded because I was trusting myself rather than living in total dependence on Christ.
It’s hard to think of Governor Bentley’s situation without reflecting upon the story of David and Bathsheba. David should have been leading the army into battle but he stayed at the palace, saw Bathsheba taking her afternoon bath and send for her. The result – an unplanned pregnancy. David’s solution? Cover it up. He sent for Uriah, Bathsheba’s wife and sent him to his wife. Uriah would not go because his comrades were in battle. So David had him killed.
Fortunately, in this situation Governor Bentley hasn’t been accused of murder. But not everything done in secret stays in secret. The prophet Nathan showed up and enraged David with a story of a rich man and a poor man. When Nathan revealed that the rich man was actually David he also shared with David the brutal consequences of his sin.
Under the Law this was an offense David and Bathsheba could have been stoned for – but Nathan told David you will not die – but the child will. A very bitter turn, but not the end of the story – you see David and Bathsheba’s next child was Solomon, David’s successor to the throne and a part of the linage of Christ.
At the time of David’s failure no one could have looked at David and thought he was in the right place. How could God have a king who would commit adultery and murder. But how many of us have sought solace in Psalm 51. Governor Bentley’s sin will be remembered by some for the next 50 years. David’s sin was chronicled by God and is remembered forever – but it is remembered as a story of redemption – not a story of failure. Hundreds of years after the fact Paul called David a “man after God’s own heart.” The Apostle Paul did not reflect upon David as an adulterer nor a murderer but rather as a man who loved God.
Jesus was teaching at the Temple on day and a group of religious people brought him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They asked him what should they do with her, since the Law commanded she be stoned. Eventually he suggested that the one without sin should cast the first stone. That quickly dispersed even this self-righteous crowd. Jesus asked her, where are those who condemn you, she told him no one did. Jesus, who was without sin, then stated, “neither do I condemn you, go your way and sin no more.” Funny thing is Jesus actually had the moral authority to cast the first stone and he chose forgiveness instead.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible has Jesus visiting in the home of a religious leader, a local prostitute heard that Jesus was there and she came into the religious leader’s house, right into the dining room where Jesus and the religious leaders were reclining at the table. She knelt at Jesus feet and began to weep, she wept so much and with such great repentance that there were enough tears to wash the dusty feet of Jesus. Her tears were so plentiful that she had to use her hair to dry his feet. As she began to feel the relief of repentance her joy was so great that she began to kiss the feet of Jesus in gratitude for his forgiveness, she anointed his feet with perfume.
The religious leaders were convinced Jesus must not know what type woman she was. Jesus knew their thoughts. He shared a story about a lender and two debtors and concluded by noting that he who has been forgiven much, loves much and he who has been forgiven little, loves little.
That is the essence of the Gospel – Jesus didn’t come to make good people better, he didn’t even come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people living people.
As the Body of Christ we run from those who have fallen. We are fearful of being soiled – but we fail to recognize we are running away from those Christ is running to.
I hate to see the trouble Governor Bentley has caused for himself, his family, other families, his supporters and our state. The price he has paid has been steep. Steeper than many of us realize. But I’m not certain what benefit comes casting stones and piling on. God’s judgement is better than ours and his vengeance truer.
I may be completely wrong about this entire event – but I always want to err on the side of mercy rather than the side of judgment.
This is a true test for Christian leaders in the church and in our state government. It’s hard to extend forgiveness to a leader who has fallen – but it is essential. If the forgiveness of Christ is not available and shared lavishly with those who have fallen, then how do we convince a broken world that God’s forgiveness extends to them?
The cross is for the mighty and the weak. The well-known and the unknown, it is for the affluent and the poor. The cross covers the pride of the morally good and the depravity of the morally fallen, it extends to those who have lived sheltered lives and to those who have lived in the den of iniquity. If the Gospel isn’t for everyone – then it isn’t for even one. But the cross and the message of the Gospel is for us all and for those who sin differently than we do.
I don’t know all the answers, nor even all the questions here – but I am grateful that Jesus ability to forgive far supersedes my ability to sin. I hope I am able to demonstrate that forgiveness to our Governor and to the world that watches.
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Jack Williams is a Republican who represents Alabama House District 47, which is composed of much of the City of Vestavia Hills and the City of Hoover.