On the Fall of Vanier and Anyone Else

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Luke 6:37–38.

“Shocking” “Sad” “Tragic” “Incredibly Disappointing” are all words used to describe the news that the late Jean Vanier had sexually abused women. (“In 1964, he founded L’Arche, an international federation of communities spread over 37 countries for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them”–Wikipedia).

It is not my purpose to weigh in on his guilt or innocence. I have no access to him (he’s deceased) nor his accusers.

Look again at the passage I quote above, especially this phrase:

“For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

We need to consider how we view the sins of our heroes and the sins of our losers, more pointedly, how we judge them. (Most serious thinkers do not see an absolute prohibition in all judging in Luke 6:37 when contrasted with John 7:24.) We mark some behaviour as harmful, evil, and as an affront to God. But beyond this, we see the sinners differently. A man who has done so much good for the weak and disabled of the world is seen as a fallen hero, one who had a moral failing, and as a tragedy; and it is right. But when a perpetrator turns out to be one that we find particularly distasteful, say for political reasons, we often see less of a tragedy in his failure and more as a feature. On the one hand, the moral failing is a mark on an otherwise nearly perfect life, but on the other, it is a feature of a person we already hate.

This is the problem with this kind of judging—it isn’t equal, fair, or just. Deuteronomy 25:13-16 is clear on this: our judgement must be based upon equal weights.

When we see a man like Vanier fall, the sin is as horrible as it is when a Harvey Weinstein falls. Our choice of hero must stay out of it.    

Man Does Not Need God?

Modern Man Does Not Need God

It’s true. For all outward appearances, that person who denies the existence or relevance of deity can get along in life just fine without belief in one (see Psalm 73).

But this isn’t what we affirm. The Bible does not speak in terms of need or desire, except for some Psalms. The expression of desire or want of God speaks from the heart of a man who believes and trusts in the God of the Bible (Psalm 42) and the question of belief is not present.

The Bible doesn’t speak about want, need, or desire of God because that is not the problem. The secular humanism of the 1960s made it clear that man, in his current state, does not need God. God, therefore, is dead.

Of course, their assumption was that God was a psychological and evolutionary concept that was to be outgrown, but that’s another post.

No, the Bible speaks to another condition: rebellion:

[Genesis 14:4; Exodus 23:21; Numbers 14:9; Numbers 17:10; Numbers 20:10; Numbers 20:24; Numbers 27:14; Deuteronomy 1:26; Deuteronomy 1:43; Deuteronomy 9:7; Deuteronomy 9:23; Deuteronomy 9:24; Deuteronomy 21:18; Deuteronomy 21:20; Deuteronomy 31:27; Joshua 1:18; Joshua 22:18; Joshua 22:19; Joshua 22:29; 1 Samuel 12:14; 1 Samuel 12:15; 1 Samuel 20:30; 2 Kings 1:1; 2 Kings 3:5; 2 Kings 3:7; 2 Kings 18:7; 2 Kings 18:20; 2 Kings 24:1; 2 Kings 24:20; 2 Chronicles 13:6; 2 Chronicles 36:13; Ezra 4:12; Ezra 4:15; Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 6:6; Nehemiah 9:26; Job 24:13; Psalm 5:10; Psalm 66:7; Psalm 68:6; Psalm 68:18; Psalm 78:8; Psalm 78:17; Psalm 78:40; Psalm 78:56; Psalm 105:28; Psalm 106:7; Psalm 106:43; Psalm 107:11; Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 1:5; Isaiah 1:20; Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 1:28; Isaiah 30:9; Isaiah 36:5; Isaiah 48:8; Isaiah 50:5; Isaiah 63:10; Isaiah 65:2; Isaiah 66:24; Jeremiah 3:13; Jeremiah 4:17; Jeremiah 5:23; Jeremiah 6:28; Jeremiah 52:3; Lamentations 1:18; Lamentations 1:20; Lamentations 3:42; Ezekiel 2:3; Ezekiel 2:5; Ezekiel 2:6; Ezekiel 2:7; Ezekiel 2:8; Ezekiel 3:9; Ezekiel 3:26; Ezekiel 3:27; Ezekiel 5:6; Ezekiel 12:2; Ezekiel 12:3; Ezekiel 12:9; Ezekiel 12:25; Ezekiel 17:12; Ezekiel 17:15; Ezekiel 20:8; Ezekiel 20:13; Ezekiel 20:21; Ezekiel 20:38; Ezekiel 24:3; Ezekiel 44:6; Daniel 9:5; Daniel 9:9; Hosea 7:13; Hosea 7:14; Hosea 8:1; Hosea 9:15; Hosea 13:16; Zephaniah 3:1; Zephaniah 3:11; Mark 15:7; Hebrews 3:16]

This is a very surface survey, but it raises the question as to how we speak to others about the Gospel. Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions and making the wrong offer. “You need Jesus in your life,” can ring hollow to a person who is emotionally happy, physically well and economically doing well.

It is true that all people everywhere need a saviour, and that saviour is Jesus. But the Bible also tells us that we are in rebellion to the God we know:

Romans 1:18–25 (ESV)

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

The only solution to this cognitive disconnect between the felt needs of people today and their real needs, and their real peril, is a holy church (Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 5:27; 1 Peter 1:15-16).

What Christians must do is to stop trying to fulfill needs that are not needs and to continue to holiness. Isn’t an emphasis on holiness a path to irrelevance? Not for those who have an appointment (Acts 13:48). But offering a solution to what is not even perceived to be a problem will not bring salvation; obedience to the call of holiness will. The church must seek to be relevant only to her Lord.

Did God Say?

“The decisive point,” notes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “is that this question suggests to man that he should go behind the Word of God and establish what it is by himself, out of his understanding of the being of God.… Beyond this given Word of God the serpent pretends somehow to know something about the profundity of the true God who is so badly misrepresented in this human word.” The serpent claims a path to the knowledge of the real God behind the Word. It is not atheism that is introduced by the serpent but idolatrous religion, says Bonhoeffer. “The wolf in sheep’s clothing, Satan in an angel’s form of light: this is the shape appropriate to evil.” This will be the doubt that Satan will introduce through false religion through the ages:

“Did God say?” That plainly is the godless question. “Did God say,” that he is love, that he wishes to forgive our sins, that we need only believe him, that we need no works, that Christ has died and has been raised for us, that we shall have eternal life in his kingdom, that we are no longer alone but upheld by God’s grace, that one day all sorrow and wailing shall have an end? “Did God say,” thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness … did he really say it to me? Perhaps it does not apply in my particular case? “Did God say,” that he is a God who is wrathful towards those who do not keep his commandments? Did he demand the sacrifice of Christ? I know better that he is the infinitely good, the all-loving father. This is the question that appears innocuous but through it evil wins power in us, through it we become disobedient to God.… Man is expected to be judge of God’s word instead of simply hearing and doing it.

Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 143.