Inspired by fallen men
Perhaps nothing stirs the hearts of believers more than learning about the human nature of saints of old. The leaves of Scripture are filled with stories of men who both served God and also failed miserably to match His holiness. Some of the tales read like a modern tabloid magazine. Judah sleeping with his daughter-in-law. Noah lying naked in a drunken stupor while his son mocks him. Jacob deceiving his father and stealing his brother’s inheritance. Solomon amassing a legion of wives. David hiring the military to murder a man to conceal his own adultery. Paul violently persecuting Christian believers. No student of the Bible wears rose-colored glasses when looking at the people portrayed in it. The struggles that they lived through and the choices that they made were fleshly–just like the men themselves.
In the New Testament James urges believers to confess their sins to one another and to pray for each other (5:16). The ideal church model is not for pious Christians to put on a facade on Sunday morning. Like the believers in Acts who came and “openly confessed” their sins, we too are to be authentic and expose our faults to our brethren. Confessing sin is a humbling process that requires great humility. But it is the process of overcoming sin that truly magnifies our Savior. What a blessing it is to hear of someone caught in an addiction, in a lifestyle, in a horrible situation who cried out to Jesus for help and was rescued.
Oh, to have the humility of David who cried, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me” (Psa. 51:3). Or the frank appraisal of the Apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). Solomon’s plush lifestyle became a source of despondency in his old age as he looked back with regret and uttered, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2).
Imagine if you never knew the backdrop to Psalms 51—the timeless song of repentance. What if Paul’s pre-Christian life, as you understood it, was the lily-white piety of a died-in-the wool Pharisee? Would Solomon’s proverbs and end-of-life petitions pack the same punch if his famous womanizing wasn’t the first thing that came to mind when you read, “For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell” (Prov. 5:3-5). The drama of the Bible is that the world is full of sin but God loved sinners enough to offer to save them—despite their utter lack of worthiness.
Like the New Testament church and Old Testament patriarchs, the modern church is full of people with history, believers with a story of redemption to tell. Like garish tattoos, some histories are as visible as inked arms outstretched in prayer. Others are the acutely embarrassing addictions and relationships that have taken their heavy personal toll. Even believers with a less colorful past have a deep awareness of the sad state of their heart apart from Christ and can echo the words of Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).
Why do Christians love to emphasize the humanity of their heroes of the faith? Is it simply an indulgent form of lowering standards and expectations? Perhaps reading about David’s affair would give license to someone tempted by adultery, and thus promote sin. Jesus’ generous forgiveness and restitution to Peter could cause other believers to deny the Lord and expect immediate forgiveness as well. Isn’t it dangerous to know all the flaws and shortcomings of such great men of faith?
As a Christian who has indulged in reading about the sins of Biblical characters, I can say this with a degree of personal experience: knowing the past sins of others provides hope. What a blessing to know that God is able to still use cracked and broken vessels! He doesn’t abandon those who abandon Him. He calls men to accountability and is ever-ready to forgive those who humble themselves in true repentance. The Bible is not simply a documentary of the sordid affairs of men; it is a masterpiece biography on the nature of God. How He deals with sinful men shows us His breathtaking love and forgiveness.
It is this acceptance by Christians of Biblical fallen heroes that must cause Mormons to cry foul. How can Christians accept David and Paul but not Joseph Smith? The Mormon Prophet’s life has been picked apart, scrutinized under a microscope and thoroughly dissected. Yet, the portions of his life that the LDS church generally publishes are extremely tame when compared to the stories of the Bible, or to Joseph Smith’s own personal history.
When the Mormon missionaries visit they often want to end with a word of encouragement. Here is a message that I would like to hear. I’d like to hear an honest statement about their Prophet—a candid Biblical-style account. I would love to hear them share the shortcomings of their Prophet and his repentance and restoration by God. They could finish by challenging me, “If God could save a sinner like our Prophet he could rescue you as well.”
But, its a story I will never hear. Within the walls of the LDS church Joseph Smith’s sins must remain unspoken. He must remain an unspotted leader, without the clouds of controversy that could tarnish his relevance. Why the reluctance to publicize his sins? Perhaps it is the Prophet’s own lack of repentance and turning-away that causes LDS leadership to shy away from holding him up as a “sinner saved by grace.”
Our humanity causes us to look upon sin and dismiss it by shrugging, “We’re all human.” But God’s holiness requires us to be more sober than that. Let us be glad that the Judge of all the earth provides us with mercy and grace when we run to Him in repentance, openly acknowledging our sin.