A Soul At Risk

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Listen to “A Soul At Risk” by Fred Smith


You may have been watching the news this week about the indictment of Jeffrey Epstein for sex trafficking in children. What has been so far just a footnote is the persistence of Senator Ben Sasse in pushing the Department of Justice to pursue the blatant sweetheart deal Epstein received when convicted in Florida in 2008. Under that deal, Mr. Epstein pleaded guilty to state prostitution charges and spent about a year in a Palm Beach jail while being permitted to leave the facility six days a week to work. There was never any doubt it was his political connections that kept him from what may have been a life sentence. Without Ben’s persistence, the case would have likely disappeared altogether.

 It was Harry Truman who said, “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”

One thing I have in common with many young friends is skepticism about the political process. I know many would rather invest their lives and resources in organizations that are focused on solving problems, social justice, evangelism and a whole array of worthy causes. They have little interest in a process that has become completely partisan, gridlocked, corrupt and foul. Why open yourself up to the delusions of power, greed, and self-aggrandizement that have come to define the political environment — or at least the way we perceive it? Why not stay on the sidelines and let those who thrive on that consume themselves? In fact, how could anyone have credible reasons to run for office and be a part of it?

I have felt all those things until recently, and it is through reading the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, and St. Paul that I am changing my mind.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer agonized over the seeming irresolvable dilemma of choosing one evil to defeat another. It would have been far easier to find an alternative good that would suit his conscience but not finding that he chose, at the risk of his own soul, to set aside his deepest beliefs to participate in the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. It cost him his life. But not only was Bonhoeffer willing to give his life, but he was also willing to risk his relationship with Christ to dirty his hands and take action: “God wants to see human beings, not ghosts who shun the world.” In fact, he went so far as to say he was willing to freely accept the moral guilt and extreme consequences of his being involved in an act that was so abhorrent to him and God. He did not excuse himself or try to rationalize his actions.

Reinhold Niebuhr pushed against the false innocence of those who refused to risk their own purity by using power. While his intended audience was America as a nation, what he has said is relevant for individuals. We don’t have perfect choices. We are fallen creatures and to expect perfection is to be not only naive but dangerously so. Niebuhr said, “Our idealists are divided between those who would renounce the responsibilities of power for the sake of preserving the purity of our soul and those who are ready to cover every ambiguity of good and evil in our actions by the frantic insistence that any measure taken in a good cause must be unequivocally virtuous.”

What was true for a nation then is true for us individually now. The risk of misusing power is no excuse for opting out. The almost certain risk of becoming corrupted is no excuse for not being engaged in the political process. Even at the risk of your own soul.

Finally, I recall the Apostle Paul writing to the Romans, “I wish I could help my Jewish brothers and sisters, my people. I would even wish that I were cursed and cut off from Christ if that would help them.” 

It’s easy to read Paul’s words and not take seriously what he was saying and what he was willing to trade for his people. He was not being dramatic or glib but deadly serious in being willing not only to risk the purity of his character but his eternity. That is what Bonhoeffer concluded and what some of our finest men and women may have faced in the muck of politics. They are willing to sacrifice far more than we can imagine.

So, let’s encourage Ben Sasse and not have unrealistic expectations about his reforming politics or being a beacon of light who never stumbles or falls. Let’s recognize the price he is willing to pay and support him and others who have chosen the harder way.

Art: The Politician by Laurent Proneur


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    Tom Ziglar

    This post has made me question my own lukewarm support (at best) for our current President. Maybe a better approach is to acknowledge that it is ok to take a hit for the obvious short comings and be a more active supporter knowing that the lack of support will like result in a worse situation. Perhaps the high moral ground of abstaining with clean hands is not so high.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      Thank you, Tom. I can’t say what you should do about your support for President Trump but I would certainly agree with all of us supporting men like Ben Sasse who did not let this fade away.

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    Phil Smith

    Very challenging. Thank you Fred! Well done Ben Sasse. Your blog calls out personal choice of risk vs security and action vs complacency. A couple MLK Jr quotes come to mind.

    “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”.

    “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”

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