The Penn State Scandal and The Image of God

The scandal surrounding the football program at Penn State University is dominating the news. The allegations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted several young boys on school property and with the apparent knowledge of other university officials is causing a range of emotions. People are spitting angry at the accused and their hearts are shredded for the victims. The details being reported are flat-out disturbing.

My focus here is not to go through the allegations or opine about the case. Instead, because it is so strikingly clear, I want to think through this from a theological perspective. In particular, I want to think about it in terms of the image of God.

Christians believe that when God created Adam and Eve he made them in his image. The Scriptures are clear about this fact (Gen. 1.26-28). God crowned humanity with unique privilege of reflecting and representing him in the world he created. God made Adam and Eve perfect, with out sin, truly reflecting him in holiness, righteousness and truth. However, after the Fall, or man’s first sin (Gen. 3) things changed. Man fell into sin and was cursed by God. It is important to note that humanity did not lose the image of God. Instead, because of sin, the image is, as Calvin said, “vitiated” or corrupted. I prefer to use the illustration of water getting on a page written on by an ink pen. The letters and message is still there but the communication is smudged. As Anthony Hoekema wrote,

“The image of God is such an unlosable aspect of man, a part of his essence and existance, something that man could not lose without ceasing to be man” Created in God’s Image, p. 32

In the case of the Penn State scandal I think we have both of these aspects in full-view.

If the allegations against Jerry Sandusky are true then he has truly engaged in wicked activity. What is the explanation for this? How can someone like LaVar Arrington who knew him so well be so shocked? How can someone so vile be so covert? The Bible explains this as sin (Rom. 3.23; 1.18-25). This sinful depravity comes out of a heart that has rebelled against God. The inclinations of the heart are upon evil (Jer. 17.9ff). We may not always act as bad as we have the potential to act, but make no mistake, we are, as a people, bad (sinfully depraved). The biblical worldview gives a reasonable explanation for this. We see in Jerry Sandusky someone who is made in the image of God but is, like all of us, a sinner. That image is vitiated, smudged, perverted and corrupted.

On the other hand we consider the outrage. Whether in the form of protestors, newspaper editorialists, or the guy at the water cooler, people are angry. I am angry. This is horrible. My heart bleeds with compassion for the victims. How can people like us, who are ourselves sinners, be so united in outrage against this type of thing? It is because we too bear the image of God. The universal tone of indignation is because we still bear God’s image. Though smudged humanity still is able, on occassion, to hit the divine pitch and condemn such actions as evil and wicked.

Both of these observations lead us to a third. The purpose of Jesus Christ in his ministry was to rescue people who are sinners. Through his perfect life of obedience, death upon the cross and resurrection from the dead, Jesus earned salvation for rebels like me and you. The Scriptures make clear that one of the chief implications of the gospel is transformation. In particular, God is actively renewing the image of God in Christians, those who are united to Christ by faith. He is renewing his people into a right reflection and representation of God (Col. 3.9-11). This is truly amazing. It does not mean that Christians never sin but it does mean that we are to hate sin and long to be thinking and acting like Jesus as we reflect and represent God.

Jesus is the true image of God (Col. 1.15) who came reflecting and representing him for people who did not. He came to save sinners. He came to save people who are good at calling out evil as well as those who are good at performing it. As a sinner, I am thankful for this even while I am outraged over sin.

Discussion

1. What stood out to you in the article?

2. What does Erik mean by this statement, “We may not always act as bad as we have the potential to act, but make no mistake, we are, as a people, bad (sinfully depraved).”

3. Do you agree with Erik about the following statement. Explain your answer: “The purpose of Jesus Christ in his ministry was to rescue people who are sinners. Through his perfect life of obedience, death upon the cross and resurrection from the dead, Jesus earned salvation for rebels like me and you.”

Guest Sports In Focus Columnist:  Erik Raymond has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow Erik on Twitter @erikraymond

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One Comment

  • Scott Zerbe says:

    Thank you for posting this article. I became aware of FCA through one of your brothers Johnny Evans in Raleigh. I am a huge Penn State fan and my prayer is that the Holy Spirit would be at work in the hearts and minds of the students, faculty, administration and community. I also pray that non-believers will be drawn to God fearing men and women for comfort during this tragedy. I also pray that FCA will be instrumental in the recovery process.