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Reflecting on Imperfect Heroes

10 as it is written,

“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
13 “THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE,
WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING,”
“THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”;
14 “WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS”;
15 “THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD,
16 DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS,
17 AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN.”
18 “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” (Romans 3.10-18 NASB)

I couldn’t help but think of this as I contemplated the death of Joe Paterno this weekend. I was intrigued, though not surprised, by the reaction. Some of my friends, many with ties to Penn State wanted to put aside the recent revelations about Paterno’s poor handling of what he has admitted he knew about the actions of Jerry Sandusky and simply praise the legend that we all thought we knew to be above critique as a man, if not as a coach. Others wanted to say all of that didn’t matter in the shadow of the Sandusky scandal. I can’t help but think that these extremes, while tempting, are simply easy alternatives to admitting that Paterno was a man, like all of us, who had good and bad times. He often made good decisions, and certainly should be applauded for not simply amassing his wealth for himself and seeking the bigger paycheck. He was faithful to Penn State, and donated millions back to the University.

On the other hand, we must admit that his ego has been reported to be large, especially late in his career. It has been a long time since Penn State has been relevant on the national stage in any consistent sense. Partially, this is due to Paterno’s entrenched opinions and unwillingness to change significantly. While the defenses have been consistently good, if not great, the offense has rarely been the envy of anyone. Coaches on his staff rarely were replaced, despite lackluster seasons. The insulated nature of the staff probably contributed to the culture that allegedly allowed Sandusky continued access to the program and facilities long after allegations of impropriety had caused him to be “banned” from the building.

The lesson? None of us is perfect. Some of us tend to overlook our shortcomings and dwell on the good we see in ourselves. Others are more prone to flagellate themselves over every failure and overlook their many good qualities. The truth is that we should keep both in mind. We should also keep in mind that all of the people around us have both as well. Even the biggest villain has some good attributes, and even the most saintly person we know has inner struggles we may never see. Have the revelations about Sandusky changed who Joe Paterno was? No. They have simply revealed things we didn’t know. We ought always to offer grace and mercy to those around us whose struggles are most visible, and refrain from sanctifying others when we know that they are human, and therefore have issues and struggles we know little about.

I leave the decision on his soul to the One who alone makes that determination, but I pray for mercy, as I would want were I in his position.

——————————-

Over at The Way of Improvement Leads Home today, John Fea offers a couple of links to takes on this, but also offers an analysis that agrees with mine, just from his perspective as an historian.

As a historian, I think that there are a few things we have to remember as we assess the legacy of Joe Paterno.

1. It is difficult to give a fair assessment of Paterno’s legacy while we are still caught up in the emotions of his death and the whole Sandusky affair.

2.  When we put our confidence in people, whether they lived in the past or live in the present, we are likely to be inspired by them, but we are just as likely to be disappointed.  There are no heroes in history–we are flawed human beings.  There are no villains in history–we, in the eyes of God, all possess dignity and worth.

You can find his links here.

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