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How God feels about the Penn State tragedy

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Penn State Board of Trustees Chairman Steve Garban, left, and Vice Chairman John Surma appear at a late-night news conference to announce the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier (Credit: Reuters/Tim Shaffer)

“This is a tragedy.  It is one of the great sorrows of my life.  With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”  With this statement, Joe Paterno announced his decision yesterday to retire as Penn State head coach at the end of the season.  However, trustees voted unanimously last night to remove him immediately.  They also fired longtime university president Graham B. Spanier.

Did the board do the right thing?

The trustee vice president stated, “We felt we need to restore trust in the university.”  Dr. Spanier supported the board’s decision: “I believe it is in the best interest of the university to give my successor a clear path to resolve the issues before us.”  Sports Illustrated agreed: “Penn State’s board of trustees did what it had to do.”  A New York Post headline went further: “Good riddance, JoePa.”

Some believe the trustees have not done enough.  Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said he was “personally disappointed in the lack of action” by Penn State officials.  And the U.S. Education Department said it would open an investigation into whether Penn State complied with a federal law that requires disclosure of criminal offenses on campus.

Others believe they have gone too far.  Many blame the media for the firestorm and claim that the coach met his moral and legal obligations.  Thousands of Penn State students stormed the downtown area last night, chanting the coach’s name, tearing down light poles, and overturning a television news van.

Your responses to yesterday’s essay took all sides.  One stated, “I believe we should hold to the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ rights of all Americans before we start vilifying Coach Paterno.”  But another replied, “He needs to be held accountable to his failure of managing his staff.  He should be fired.”

How does God feel about this tragedy?  First, he grieves with its victims.  When we misuse our freedom to harm his children, their Father feels their pain and shares their suffering.  He is with us in the floods and fires of life (Isaiah 43:1-3) and weeps as we weep (John 11:35).

Second, he seeks justice for all.  He defends those who cannot defend themselves (Isaiah 1:17) and will make right all that is wrong (Hebrews 10:30).

Third, he works to redeem our suffering for his glory and our good (Romans 8:28).  He loves those who have been accused and those who accused them.  He is ready to heal all who trust their pain to his grace.

Where is this tragedy personal for you?  Whether you empathize more with those who allege that they have been abused or with those who have been accused of wrongdoing, you know the pain of innocent suffering.  Now Scripture invites you to “cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).  Where will you begin this morning?