When John Edwards said after his court victory last week, “I don’t think God’s through with me. I really believe he thinks there’s still some good things I can do,” what did he mean?
Political pundits and columnists leaped to the interpretation that he was setting the stage for a political return, having once been the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee. Most rejected the notion that Edwards has any political future.
Other commentators suggested that Edwards was beginning to think about a redemptive journey through public service.
Still others dismissed his reference to God and hope for a future. They hoped he would disappear never to be seen again on TV. After all, what he did was too sleazy.
One need not replay in detail his history of cheating on his wife as she fought against cancer or denying the fatherhood of a child with his mistress or getting another to claim the fatherhood of that child. He deceived his family – and voters. He is no doubt deeply flawed.
But he stands not alone in the line.
Remember Watergate felon Charles Colson, former New York Democratic Gov. Elliott Spitzer, Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter and former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich – to list only a few.
Interestingly and disappointingly, missing from many media accounts and commentaries has been Edwards’ confession of sin.
“While I do not believe that I did anything illegal … I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong. And there is no one else responsible for my sin … I am responsible. And if I want to find the person who should be held accountable for my sin, honestly, I don’t have to go any further than the mirror. It’s me. It is me and me alone,” said Edwards.
When Edwards said he had sinned, he was making a faith statement, not a political statement.
And while faith statements might be political statements, Edwards was right to confess his sin and profess his hope in redemption.
Acknowledging dependence on God, confessing sin and expressing hope are foundational for a new future.
That doesn’t mean that we glibly forgive Edwards and readily forget what he did. As Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes wrote years ago, “forgiving is not forgetting.”
As the secular world thinks about everything through the filter of politics, the faith world turns to the ancient narratives of those who were flawed and yet remained agents of God’s agenda. The biblical witness has such stories.
Moses the murderer fled into the desert before returning to lead God’s people out of Egypt. He faithfully formed a people through hardships. Yet his disobedience to God kept him from crossing into the promised land.
Samson, who was consecrated to God, rejected his godly heritage before falling into bondage. Yet he turned to God for strength to defeat the enemy of his people.
King David, who assassinated Uriah, was remembered as a man after God’s own heart. Yet he was kept from building the Temple because he had too much blood on his hands.
In the fullness of time, we will learn about the authenticity of Edwards’ confession.
For now, hearing an admission of responsibility for sin is rare in the public square of a nation that sees itself as Christian.
If we hear at all the word “sin,” it is a descriptive term, such as a “sin tax” on cigarettes or “sin city” in reference to Las Vegas. We almost never hear one say “I am responsible … for my sin.”
RobertParham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friendhim on Facebook.