Learning from the Bill Cosby tragedy

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Learning from the Bill Cosby tragedy

November 18, 2014 - Jim Denison, PhD

Entertainer Bill Cosby gestures during an interview about the upcoming exhibit, Conversations: African and African-American Artworks in Dialogue, with the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art (Credit: AP/Evan Vucci)

Bill Cosby has been an American icon for decades.  As Dr. Cliff Huxtable, he was star of The Cosby Show and the quintessential American father.  He wrote the bestseller Fatherhood and was a spokesman for Jell-O, Coca-Cola, and other venerable American institutions.  His comedy act has sold out theaters around the world.

How tragically things have changed.  A comedian recently called him a “rapist” in a video that has now gone viral; last week a woman wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post claiming that Cosby assaulted her numerous times.  The allegations go back to 2005, when a woman claimed that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in his home.  He denied the allegations.  More than a dozen women (one of them wrote the recent Washington Post article) then said they were prepared to testify to similar stories of assault; the case was settled before going to trial.

Responding to the recent furor, Cosby’s lawyer said Sunday he will not dignify “decade-old, discredited” claims of sexual abuse.  However, the comedian has cancelled an appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and postponed an engagement with “The Queen Latifah Show.”  Cosby has never admitted to sexual abuse, nor have such charges ever been proved in court.  However, he has admitted to an extra-marital affair, paying $100,000 over 20 years to keep it a secret.  A recent biography claims there were other affairs as well.

Clearly I have no idea whether sexual assault charges against Bill Cosby are true.  Nor is it always true with celebrities that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”—the financial incentive to make false claims is obvious.  But by his own admission Cosby has repeatedly placed himself where he should not have been.  Once again, Jesus’ prohibition against lust (Matthew 5:27-30) has been proven valid.  God warns us that “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full grown brings forth death” (James 1:15).  Now Bill Cosby’s private life will always be part of his public story.

Consider a similar story.  University of Southern California football player Josh Shaw claimed last August that he sprained his ankles while jumping into a pool to save his seven-year-old nephew.  He later admitted the truth: he jumped from a balcony where he and his girlfriend had been arguing after someone called the police.  Last week a sports broadcaster in Dallas commenting on the story made this observation: “Never lie, because someone out there knows the truth and you’ll have to remember all the dirty details.”  That’s good advice.

This morning I was struck by Psalm 128: “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!  You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you” (vs. 1-2).  When we fear and reverence God, we will walk in his word and ways.  When we do that, we position ourselves to be blessed by his grace.  Then he can do with us and for us far more than we can do with and for ourselves.  My wife often encouraged our sons to “live a life God can bless.”

How you end the race matters far more than how you began it.  What do you need to do today to finish well?

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