Not By Might or Power

  In the last few weeks the newspapers have been full of stories about sexual misconduct—and conservatives are horrified. We're shocked because the titillating exposes involve, not Hollywood stars but prominent conservative leaders. Among them is Newt Gingrich, who is embroiled in a nasty divorce case. Court documents reveal that, at the same time he was espousing family values, he himself was involved in a secret extra-marital affair. Then came the explosive charges involving George Roche, president of Hillsdale College. According to press reports, Roche carried on a two-decade affair with his daughter-in-law, Lisa, who was also Roche's personal assistant. The ugly story came out after Lisa tragically committed suicide. Many Christians are deeply troubled by these events. They're asking, how can people stand for high moral principles and then behave this way? Are we all hypocrites? I think an experience I had with George Roche may help us understand what's going on. A few years ago, I spoke on the subject of ethics at one of Hillsdale's national conferences. I took Dostoevsky's famous question, "Can man be good without God?," as the title of my lecture. I argued that man cannot be good without God, that the human will is rebellious, and that only the power of God's Spirit can enable us to live a moral and righteous life. Afterwards, Lisa Roche called to tell me that George Roche wanted to publish the address in a school periodical. When I received the edited version of the speech, I was dismayed to find that all references to Jesus had been eliminated. I called Lisa to protest and she told me that it was their policy not to use the Lord's name in any of their publications. My response was, "Then forget about publishing the speech." After lengthy negotiations, George Roche agreed to let me make two references to Jesus Christ. I think the title of my speech, "Can Man Be Good Without God?" turned out, sadly, to be prophetic—and maybe helps us understand this tragedy. What Roche was trying to do at Hillsdale, as I understand it, was to create a strong pro-family, pro-traditional values institution, but keep it secular. Many politicians try to do the same thing, giving us the impression that we can create a good and just society on our own, without reference to a transcendent moral authority, and sustain it on our own strength—that is, apart from Jesus. But it just doesn't work. And when some do fail, as they inevitably will, their example can be especially dangerous, because Americans are tempted to conclude that if the strongest and best can't make it, what hope is there for ordinary citizens? In reality, these very public moral failures illuminate what scripture teaches about the weakness of the human will: It is naturally prone to sin--and that's true, even among those who espouse the most powerful pro-family teachings. The human will is not strong enough to maintain a life of decency and morality apart from the transforming of that will by the power of Christ. No amount of disciplined education, political programming, congressional funding, or sheer determination will do it. Without the help of the living Christ, even the most powerful among us is potentially nothing more than the next moral embarrassment waiting to happen.


Chuck Colson



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