Every sex abuse scandal in history, like the one at Penn State, screams out three things. First, that we are sexual beings; second, that we are broken sexual beings; and third, that there is a longing for things to be made right.
Sexual abuse is a horrible thing. It leaves a trail of tornado like damage in its path. It causes young people to never want to trust anyone in authority again. It leaves deep scars that people often carry with them all their lives.
In the last two weeks we’ve heard about the growing sex abuse allegations at Penn State, the Citadel, and Syracuse. This time the story does not involve clergy or teachers, but athletic coaches. First it involved news of a Penn State football coach abusing a boy. Then he was accused of 40 counts of sexually abusing boys over a period of more than ten years. Now stories of other coaches at other schools are coming out.
What do we do with this? You might not want to think about it because it is so painful, or so twisted, or simply because it is about sex. Some will no doubt use it as a platform to denounce the hypocrisy of all “middle class sexual standards.” Many will suppose these sad stories have nothing to do with the gospel. But the truth is, they have everything to do with the gospel.
The first thing this scandal screams out is that we are sexual beings—you, me, Jerry Sandusky, Bernie Fine, and every unnamed victim of this recent scandal. It is a fact not to be forgotten in all this talk of abuse.
Remember, the first two things we learn about sex from God is that right from the beginning he designed it, and it was very good. The first command of the Bible is the command to be fruitful and multiply. This is not talking about growing grapefruits and memorizing multiplication tables. God created us as sexual beings. Sexuality, of course, goes beyond simple acts.
All of it was designed by God—our gender, our unique natures, our bodies, our excitements—the works. Sadly, some Christians through history have ignored or denied human sexuality. Traditional societies sometimes fear it. Secular societies often idolize it. But the Biblical view is that sex and sexuality are gifts from God that are to be expressed according to his good design.
The second scream from this scandal is the scream of brokenness. In a scandal like this, there is great damage all around. Worst of all is the damage done to the victims. Then there is the damage done to all of the families and relationships involved. There is the damage done to Jerry Sandusky, and every other coach implicated. There is damage to young people’s view of authority. There is damage to the legacy of Joe Paterno. There are damaged school reputations. Each of these schools are now going through PR nightmares, as is the NCAA. All this comes from a sickening cycle of sexual abuse.
Something is terribly broken. There is the brokenness of a coach’s sexuality, as well as his sense of stewardship for his athletes. There is the brokenness of a system that knew about it but did not report it. Now, as a result, there is the brokenness of many victims.
Like everything else in life, this broken mess reflects the more pervasive brokenness of our world, which the Bible says is due to sin. God gives gifts. People habitually misuse them. This is especially seen in sex addictions, sex trafficking, and the overall sexual confusion of our age. We live in a hypersexualized culture which, denying transcendence, looks for ultimate meaning in misdirected passion. Instead of loving God and others supremely, our loves are misdirected and perverted.
Sexual abuse coming from adults like coaches, parents, or ministers is doubly destructive. Because it not only violates someone weaker and more vulnerable, but it breaks the bond of trust that is necessary in these important relationships. Once trust is broken this terrible transaction reverberates through life.
Perhaps that is why Jesus said that for those who cause the little ones (children) to stumble, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck (Mark 9.42). Strong words responding to strong pain, and the cries of sexual brokenness right now going up around the world.
This is why Scripture warns about ignoring God’s designs. The solemn warnings in the Bible are there for our protection. We break them at our own risk. And this is also why God protects sexual relations by the bonds of heterosexual monogamous marriage with a covenantal commitment of lifelong fidelity.
All of us at some point realize the cost of ignoring our creator in this area. We’ve experienced brokenness, pain, and perhaps enslavement. We know the real guilt we feel when we violate God’s commands. But thankfully, this is not the end of the story.
The third thing this scandal screams out is that many people long for things to be made right in this area of their lives. They cry out for something more. Victims and their families want justice. They want someone to pay for all these sins. Or they want relief from the pain it has called. Exposed perpetrators often want some kind of covering, perhaps even forgiveness. Many want wholeness and healing.
The greatness of the gospel is that God has provided all these things through his Son Jesus. Through Christ, there is a way out of all this darkness. There is one who brings just judgment. There is one who atones for sins, who clears guilt, who forgives sin and provides a covering. There is one who heals and makes whole. He is in the business of changing hearts and reorienting affections. He shows us a better way to live. He points the way out of sexual slavery and brokenness.
There is sexual re-storation and re-formation in Jesus. By his cross, he offers us the grace of forgiveness and then leads us in a new and living way. He brings us back to the truth about sex so that we respect children and women and express sexuality in a way that both glorifies God and blesses people.
The news media will not tell you any of this. The response of these universities and NCAA officials will be to demonize a few individuals and enact more external regulations. They will not get to the heart of this problem. Nor will they respond with much hope.
But the gospel offers a much better value proposition. It takes the whole discussion to another level.