Sin, Petraeus, and Me

November 26, 2012

Here is my contribution to Bowman’s December newsletter:

Probably like the rest of you, I was saddened to read about the moral quagmire David Petraeus has stumbled into. I’d like to believe that our leaders have few, if any, flaws. I respected Petraeus for his discipline, service to our country, and leadership ability. Petraeus seemed to be the model leader. No doubt, through the years, many who thought they knew General Petraeus believed that he was the master of discipline. You might have heard of his “12 Rules For Living.” His first rule is, “Lead by example from the front of the formation. Take your performance personally—if you are proud to be average, so too will be your troops.” This is obviously great truth. Sadly, his example is now probably irreparably broken.

What happened to General Petraeus happens all the time. The parade of rich, powerful people who bungle their lives through moral failure is ongoing. When our politicians aren’t behaving badly all one has to do is to cast one’s gaze in the direction of Hollywood to be reminded of the betrayal the human heart is capable of. If truth be told, this same seamy, seedy reflex is found in all our hearts to one degree or another. Regardless of how we clean up on Sunday, our depravity is always looking for self-expression. The line from the 60th question of the Heidelberg Catechism that we often recite on Sundays is so true: “Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil …” (emphasis mine)

My guess is that General Petraeus had no intention of walking off the moral cliff. Again, I’d guess that he deeply regrets the pain he has caused his wife of 38 years and their two children. He says that his wife, Holly, is “far better than he deserves” and that he engaged in something “dishonorable.”

How is it that a man whose life that had revolved around discipline fails in one of life’s most important areas? We all understand temptation but how is it that we’ll throw all caution to the wind and play Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun? Aside from the pleasure and the sense that one is still vital, how did he expect the game to end? There are pleasures associated with sin (Heb. 11:25) but they are the pleasures of a steak dinner before one’s execution. Sin is humiliating and destructive. We all know this and yet when temptation comes we struggle with temporary insanity. We know that sin kills and yet we still rush to do it. Like Ulysses we need to tie ourselves to the mast so that the Siren song of sin doesn’t call us to our deaths.

Petraeus knew that what he was doing was wrong. He knew it would be an IED that would permanently fracture his family. Its destruction would ripple at least through the lives of his children. He knew this and yet he walked off the cliff. He pulled the pin. It doesn’t seem to matter that sin is wrong and that it will slice and dice our loved ones. We will still do it.

So what do we do? We can’t stay tied to the mast all the time. As we all know, the naked law doesn’t work. We can tattoo the Ten Commandments to the back of our hands and we’ll still use those hands to break every one of them. This is Paul’s point in Romans 7. This isn’t a try harder thing. The harder we try the more we fail. We don’t need law; we need grace.

Again, what works? Since we continue to sin there obviously isn’t an easy answer. I’d commend the usual strategies. Prayer, Bible study, and hearing the gospel preached are all vitally important. These tactics are important in that they can remind us of God’s grace. It is the love of God that “controls” us, 2Co 5:14. God’s love is the lashing around the mast that keeps us from plunging into the water. I could cite other passages that say the same thing. You remember the story of Jacob working to be able to marry Rachel. He worked seven years to be able to say, “I do.” Those seven years seemed “but a few days” (Ge 29:20). Why? He loved her. What produces the work of obedience in your life? The love of God. Immerse yourself in the love of God and you’ll find the delight of obedience. As you understand God’s love you will love him (1Jn 4:19). Love for him spurs our obedience.

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2 Responses to “Sin, Petraeus, and Me”

  1. ancientcures Says:

    Great Post! I would also include the reading of the Book of Proverbs. There is much to say about the immoral woman and things about not going into your neighbor’s wife, the jealousy of a husband, and so forth. As we talked today about asking the LORD to try us and cleanse us. Again a great post and timely for today’s culture.

  2. phfs9 Says:

    Good article. Enjoyed it.


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