As I read Psalm 15 in The Message on this bright morning, I’m struck by the directness of its five verses. The psalmist wants to know: “God, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list?”
Verse 2 begins a rather short list of what it takes to dwell with God …
“Walk straight; act right; tell the truth.
“Don’t hurt your friend; don’t blame your neighbor.”
Verse 4 hits like a hammer: “… despise the despicable.” I immediately think of a despicable act. It was described by a witness on the Penn State campus. He reported the violation immediately to the head coach, Joe Paterno. Soon, the president of the university knew of it.
But they did nothing. The incident happened eight years ago but only came out this past week. For all that time, the perpetrator was free to go about his life as an assistant to Coach Paterno as if nothing had ever happened. As if the victim(s) didn’t matter.
Sports fans across the nation heard about the scandal. Many went viral. Quickly, the board of trustees dismissed both Paterno and the president of Penn State. These men in charge did not despise the despicable. Not only that, every admonition in this psalm was violated—no walking straight, acting right, or telling the whole truth about the incident.
Verse 4 continues: “Keep your word even when it costs you …” Coach Paterno and other responsible officials didn’t keep their word. Besides winning football games, they were expected to ethically respond to aberrant behavior. Was Holy Scripture quoted or referenced in Joe Paterno’s job description when he took over as head football coach 46 years ago? Unlikely. But the public expectation that he walk straight and act right, while speaking truthfully, was assumed as clearly as if those verses had been engraved on the walls of every room in every building on that campus.
The public outcry erupted because lies, excuses, and weasel words were presented as truth. They were seen as attempts to deny justice, ignore the victim, and allow an evildoer to go scot-free.
The public response is a positive sign. In today’s relativistic culture, it’s fashionable to say there’s no absolute truth because truth is relative. However, that very statement is an absolutist statement of what truth is; thus, defeating the argument for relative truth. The relativist stands on the pinnacle of an absolute truth and wants to relativize everything else. This scandal displays the bankruptcy of relative truth.
This brings us back to ask: Why would a coach with the ability to win two national championships and numerous Big Ten titles try to bend and shape truth in order to cover the moral predations of an assistant coach? Simply, he wanted to play god so he could create his own truth so he could keep a coach so they could increase the chances of winning more games so … You know the scenario. This neglect of the up-front cost will, in the end, cost far more in damage to more people and to Penn State University.
We speak about the victims and the cover-up and solemnly declare our grief and outrage. Coach Paterno’s malfeasance certainly exceeds my petty crimes and occasional shading of the truth to spare embarrassment or gain advantage. Really now? Do I/have I tried to modify truth to cover my shortcomings or to get what I wanted?
Yes. To my shame, I must say yes. You, too? Of course. So where does that leave us? Back to Psalm 15, verse 2—“Walk straight; act right; tell the truth.”
And to whom do I direct this truth-telling? To the person(s) I’ve offended, which includes the Truth-giver, God himself. That’s called confession.
With it must come repentance and the asking of forgiveness. I may even have to pay restitution and submit to appropriate penalties. God’s requirements may seem hard but without adherence to them, there is no healing of lives, of institutions, of relationships, or even of families.