December 3, 2007

“When a Halo Slipsâ€?
by Pastor George Van Alstine

“A halo has only to fall eleven inches to become a noose.â€? (Source unknown)

In the recent past, we’ve seen TV evangelists, Catholic priests and elected officials involved in scandals that have made headlines. And we love it!

Why do we take such delight in the public humiliation of popular and influential leaders? Part of it comes from the petty jealousy average folk feel when some among us emerge from the pack to become achievers. Rather than using their example as motivation to do better and strive for higher goals ourselves, we secretly long to bring them down to our level. When they fall, we somehow feel vindicated.

But there is another dimension to our glee at someone’s fall, when the person has had a pattern of projecting holiness or self-righteousness. This is the case for all the religious leaders who have crashed over sexual sins. Whether they are TV evangelists who have preached against the sins of the flesh or Catholic priests whose vow of celibacy has indicated a holy lifestyle, we feel righteously indignant when they offend their own high standards.

“Hypocrisyâ€? is the word used to describe the political leader who proclaims the importance of “family values,â€? then seeks casual homosexual companionship in an airport restroom. He has failed to practice what he preached, and all of us recoil from such double standards in our leaders. The halo has slipped down eleven inches and become a noose.

It’s always dangerous to say “Let this be a lesson to you!â€? without also saying “Let this be a lesson to me!â€? When I delight in the noose around the neck of a fallen leader or celebrity, I am at the same time placing a halo of righteousness above my own head. By condemning him, I’m saying “I would never be caught doing what he did.â€? Well, there are two cautions I should remind myself of. First, I may be emphasizing the “I’d never be caught,â€? as sometimes I feel proud about how clever I am at hiding my sins. Second, while it may be true that I’d never “do what he did,â€? maybe my secret sins are even worse than his, in God’s eyes.

So, as soon as the halo begins to form over my head, I need to have a time with the Lord to be open with him about my own failings and to seek his forgiveness, both for my sin and for my self-righteousness.

Jesus’ words are just as relevant today as they were when he first spoke them on a mountain-top in Galilee:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.â€? (Matthew 7:1-5)