The King is Dead
The King is Dead!
By Les Thompson
That was some kind of day —Tuesday, June 30! A friend told me that the sentence received by Bernard “Bernie” Madoff (the former stock broker who stole $ 65 billion from thousands of investors in a Ponzi scheme) reminded him of Alice in Wonderland with Humpty Dumpty (an egg). He was very strong and sure of himself, perched precariously on that old wall, but suddenly, while Alice was away…
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
The same happened to Madoff, author of the largest financial scam in history, who was sentenced to 150 years in prison. In handing down the verdict, Judge Denny Chin found him guilty of “extraordinarily evil” crimes. In the U.S., his story shook the faith in the nation’s financial and legal systems, causing “staggering loss” among both rich and poor. Meanwhile, the nation watched the events with sighs of relief seeing the fall of this man who had once been honored for his financial prowess.
When you viewed the events that led to this man’s incarceration, what thoughts went through your mind? I’m somewhat sentimental and couldn’t help putting myself in Mr. Madoff’s shoes. What if all that had happened to me?
Most people (the Apostle Paul says, “All have sinned … “) have some sort of “Ponzi scheme” in their past. What if the “records” in your life and my life had been subpoenaed? I’m sure —if we could have gotten to them— there would have been more than three erasures! What if the press had pursued each of us as relentlessly as it did Madoff? What would they have found? What if our friends as well as our enemies had been called to witness against us? Most of us would have been impeached!
Man has such a high opinion of himself and such a low opinion of his neighbor. Yet, when man looks at mankind objectively he comes to dismal conclusions. Atheism, agnosticism, existentialism, nihilism and even humanism all agree man is only an animal with brains, therefore with no meaningful purpose whatsoever. Mark Twain put it this way: “God doesn’t know we are here. And He wouldn’t care if He did.”
Does God know that Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison? Does He care? I remember a few years ago when I flew over Bolivia. As the DC-3 skimmed a few thousand feet over the high, cold, rocky Andes, I could see little huts protruding here and there and human beings shepherding sheep and llamas. They lived a thousand miles from nowhere, scratching out a beggarly existence from mountain wastes, earning an average of $10.00 a year. If God doesn’t care, if God doesn’t know, why should I care? Man is nothing, just another animal.
And then there’s Madoff and his white-collared crimes with his conspirators. If God doesn’t know, if God doesn’t care, why should I? Man is nothing. Madoff is nothing. Since modern science tells us man serves no useful purpose, this whole existential act —criminal charges, trial and sentencing— is merely an exercise in absurdity.
Our philosophers have labored to teach us “sin” is old-fashioned, that morality is only relative. They have encouraged us in our up-to-date personal wanderings and indulgences. However, seeing their reactions to Maddof’s morals would make us question their honesty: “Citizens can and should enjoy life —get away from their “Puritan” past— but citizens should expect powerful men to live by the old-fashioned standards.” How double-minded can we be? As people we can leave God and morals behind. Public figures, however, must abide by God and ancient codes!
Madoff’s Ponzi scheme trial is nothing more than philosophers trying to whitewash sins. It has revealed the ugly side of our American facade. It has made us all feel very uncomfortable, like the prodigals we really are. Interestingly, we, too, feel out of place in the pigpen. Unfortunately, we’re not quite ready to return to the Father. We’re still feeding on husks, somehow believing our genius is going to find a solution for the world.
Long ago David took a good look at himself and people in general. Apparently he didn’t like what he saw, so he turned to God and asked, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest [protects, cares for] him?” In spite of what man in his vilest moment can do, David sensed God both knew and cared.
Jesus, too, spoke of the worth of man. One day, He took, as it were, the world in one hand and man in the other and said: “What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” In one breath He mentions man’s inestimable worth and, in the other, man’s ability to lose and degrade himself so completely as to “lose his own soul.” Here’s the catch. Modern thinkers see clearly man’s worth and potential, but somehow refuse to admit to man’s capacity and will for vileness. Thus they’ve got us believing it’s just Madoff and his conspirators, and a few crazy people like that. The rest of us are quite right and normal. The Bible says, “All have sinned … “ What we need now is a confrontation to make us realize it.
Imagine yourself among that happy crowd of men. At last they’d found a real sinner, caught in the very act. Joyfully they subpoena her tapes, they gather the witnesses, they start the trial. Only this time it’s not Chin who is the assigned judge, it’s Jesus! He dispenses with that whole scandal by simply saying: “He that is without sin among you let him cast the first stone.” Imagine yourself as one of the woman’s accusers under that indictment (John 8:1-11)!
Look again at that poor, helpless convicted woman. Imagine now that you are in her shoes-confused, embarrassed, ashamed, terrified, defenseless. You expect condemnation. Before you stands as judge the pure, sinless, holy Son of God. Instead, you find understanding, love, forgiveness. Jesus-God incarnate-cares! He issues a divine pardon right on the spot!
Now, let’s try to get the Christian world in divine perspective. Does God care? Does God know? Are Madoff and his helpers beyond salvation? Are we beyond pardon? The solution to our ills as a nation isn’t to walk away and leave Jesus alone with the guilty woman (or with Bernard Madoff) as the men did long ago. We’d be much wiser to stay with them and ask to be included in that divine pardon. Let me tell you, if I were in Madoff’s shoes, I’d want Jesus as my judge. Since I’m a sinner, I want to be where the woman was —guilty, yes, but standing before the forgiving Savior. In other words, we can walk away, but we leave unpardoned. A pardon, to do any good, must be accepted.
But what I hear is that most Americans want Madoff to burn in the hell during his 150 years as a prisoner. And, it seems to me, many of these are the very people who scoff at the Bible for teaching there is an eternal hell for unrepentant sinners. Now they are saying a sinner (Madoff) should pay the penalty for his sins.
How biblical we’ve gotten! That is exactly what God tells us from Genesis to Revelation. Man has broken God’s standards, therefore God has found it necessary to punish him by exacting an eternal hell. God says that Bernard Madoff, for betraying his clients’ trust and scandalously abusing his powers as a powerful investor, must be punished, not just now, but eternally. That should satisfy the crowd calling for his blood!
However, the Bible doesn’t stop there. It tells us that Madoff’s punishment has already been meted out! So has the woman’s who was caught in adultery. So have mine and yours. Jesus, God’s Son, not wanting us to suffer such a terrible penalty for our sins, suffered in our place. And He, being God, offers to men a pardon much more absolute and protective than any pardon a court of law could ever grant.
Because I am the way I am and do the things I do, because Bernie Madoff is the way he is and did the things he did, and because you are the way you are and do the things you do, God in amazing love offers us a way out. He does not excuse you, or me, or Madoff, or the woman caught in adultery. He instead willingly took on Himself my sin and your sin and their sin. Somehow, He thinks we’re all worth it!
And, as I see man and all he is capable of doing, I begin to understand why King David asked: “What is man that Thou are mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou visitest him?” How glad I am He knows all about me … and that He cares … and proves it by pardoning me fully and eternally!