‘How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?” a seemingly emotional Today Show host Savannah Guthrie said after learning that her colleague Matt Lauer had been fired for inappropriate sexual conduct. “I don’t know the answer to that,” she said, fighting back tears.
Most of us have experienced the same shocked disappointment in our own, non-televised lives. I felt it a few years ago when our child’s tutor was charged with a sex crime. I stood with the phone in my hand as my mind raced. Had I ever left the kids alone with him? Why had I let him into the house at all? A shadow of uncertainty and betrayal crept across my heart: How can someone we trusted be capable of such evil?
Undoubtedly, we’ll ask ourselves this over and over as sex-abuse victims speak out against formerly beloved “cultural icons” (to borrow Nancy Pelosi’s phrase). Even if we didn’t think John Conyers was an icon, many felt baffled when we learned that Bill Cosby drugged women before having sex, and we’ll undoubtedly experience it in the coming days and months as more and more names dominate the headlines. No cultural figure, political party, or group is immune.
Of all the recently disgraced men, the one that really got to me was Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, the man who brought the friendship of Buzz Lightyear and Woody to tear-jerking life. How can a serial groper depict the innocence of childhood with such poignancy? Come to think of it, are there any real fathers like the fictional sweater-wearing Cliff Huxtable — faithful, generous, funny, kind? Do these qualities exist in real life, a life not scripted by studio execs trying to create a world better than it is?
The actual world doesn’t offer much hope. When, years ago, I found out I was pregnant, I scoured the Internet for good name suggestions. Invariably, if I found one I liked, a friend would say something like, “No, I knew a Carson once who was a bully.” Or, “Every Heather I’ve ever known has been cruel.” And so, I went to the Bible, but even the Scriptures offered little hope for humanity’s goodness. Though “David” was a family name for us, the Biblical King David impregnated a married woman, then sent her husband off to die in war. And I certainly didn’t want to name my child after Rachel (who stole idols), Abraham (who risked his wife’s life through his deception), Moses (whose anger kept him from the Promised Land), Peter (who denied Christ), or Aaron (who made a golden calf).
Like the Israelites who worshipped that chunk of metal, we Americans bow to the charismatic characters on morning talk shows and televised dramas, somehow imbuing them with virtue that comes only from God Himself. Our shock at the now-daily public humiliations reveals our idolatry . . . and how misguided we ever were to assume that people are really, actually good.
And the problem of evil is worse than headlines suggest.
In every celebrity scandal, dozens of “regular people” knew about the abuse and said nothing. Studios enriched the abusers, friends protected them, and voters empowered them. At the cleaners last week, I overheard women dissing Matt Lauer’s accusers, but I didn’t have the energy to interject myself into the conversation to defend them. If I’m honest, I fail to live up to my own expectations on a daily basis in big and small ways. And speaking of people not living up to standards, the Today Show hosts apparently were merely feigning surprise at Lauer’s behavior. According to reports, they already knew of his antics.
The sex scandals, and all the disappointing moral failures that facilitated them and surround them, remind us that people can’t save; we all need a Savior. If 2017 has shown us anything, it’s that both political parties are disappointed and disappointing, that Republicans and Democrats have been complicit in abuse, that even our most trusted personalities have darkness lurking beneath those heavily made-up faces and perfectly white smiles.
The problem of evil is worse than headlines suggest.
All three of my children ended up having names (Ruth, Naomi, and — yes — David) plucked from the pages of the Bible. Turns out, the same book that describes the tragic exploits of humanity also introduces us to a Father who, unlike Dr. Huxtable, won’t disappoint. The Bible also tells us of a perfect person, one who lived without grabbing women by the genitals, without scandalizing a plant, and without installing a door that locks with the push of a button. He also didn’t look the other way at injustice, make excuses for pedophiles in order to win a junior Senate seat, or wait silently for laundry while women maligned victims of a crime.
With every high-profile scandal, God is doing something profound and deeply unnerving: showing us that we can’t put our trust in people. He alone is God.