In the past 24 hours since Governor Mark Sanford admitted his affair, I’ve run the gamut of emotions: sadness, depression, anger, and most of all, bewilderment.
The particular tragedy of Sanford is that he had been an outstanding governor. He’s attractive, engaging, and smart. He is an articulate and tenacious defender of family values. And he espoused the cause of Christ.
Now, his career lies on the ash heap of history. He’ll have to gracefully withdraw from political life and try to put his shattered marriage back together.
I mentioned sadness and depression. Sanford’s admission is simply the latest among pro-family conservative Christian politicians. Remember Senator David Vitter, involved with a prostitution service? Then just a week ago, Senator John Ensign of Nevada—a good friend I have known for years—he, too, admitted an affair.
And now Mark Sanford, probably the last man in American public life I would have expected to so incredibly disappoint us.
Sadness, depression—then there’s anger. These men dishonored their families and their offices and the Christian faith they profess.
But most of all, I am bewildered. Sanford had it all—a beautiful wife and family, high public office, and he was a viable candidate, perhaps, for President. Why would he throw it all away?
The answer came to me as I stewed over Sanford’s demise—and as I have reflected on my own life and my own failures, particularly before I knew the Lord.
We humans, you see, have an infinite capacity for self-rationalization. We reason that we can give in to those seemingly minor temptations—say an emotional attraction to a co-worker, or just one drink at the party—because we think we know the boundaries. We think our reason can keep us safe.
The problem is, as C. S. Lewis wrote in his timeless essay, “Men Without Chests,” that our reason is no match for the passions of the flesh. Lewis put it this way: Our stomachs (that is our appetites) can’t be controlled by our minds (that is, reason). Something else has to come in to play—and that is the spirited element, or our chests, as he called it. It’s our will being trained to do what is right and just.
Nearly every grave moral failure begins with a small sin. Because there comes a time, after we toy with sin, when one pull of the flesh causes us to cross the line, to disengage from reason, and to follow our appetites wherever they may lead.
And, I’m afraid, this is especially easy today. We’re told we can have it all, that we can be free to pursue any pleasure. Our wills are not trained to do what is good, but to do what pleases us. Many of us have become, as Lewis said, men without chests.
So, fellow Christians, don’t be self-righteous. Let the Sanford tragedy be a cautionary tale. Are you toying with sin? If so, for your self, your family, and your Lord—stop. Don’t put yourself in a position of compromise.
Instead, let us—you and I—prayerfully build up our chests and train our will that we might, by God’s grace and in fellowship with other believers who hold us accountable, not betray our Lord.