Paterno, Sandusky, and the Nature of the Law

One of the biggest stories of 2011 will no doubt be the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. For a couple of months now, details have continued to leak out about Jerry Sandusky’s guilt or innocence and the role of legendary coach Joe Paterno. There has been much written in the last coupe of days about the legacy of Paterno and how he should be remembered.

I’m not meaning to speculate about how the forthcoming trial will unfold in this post. Nor do I mean to comment on the way the believing community should react to either Paterno’s memory or Sandusky. But there is an idea that has been said and articulated in different ways time and time again in the national media in reference to Paterno that points to something deeper in us at a couple of different levels.

The idea in question is this: legal obligation versus moral obligation.

Essentially, the argument as I understand it goes like this: Paterno did all he was legally required to do when he found out about the potential abuse being perpetrated by Sandusky. He reported the incident / s to the campus police. That was all he was required to do from a legal standpoint.

But from a moral standpoint, he was required to do more. Much more. What’s curious about this idea is that it has come from the Christian and the non-Christian alike. Because these charges are of such a heinous nature, the believer and the non-believer seem to be standing together on the basis of morality, and together they seem to be saying that the legal minimum was not enough.

It’s almost as if there is in all of us some base level of morality – a law of conscience if you will. Something that’s ingrained deeply within us that requires something of us. And that “something” is not just to do the minimum required, but to do and be more than we are. We feel it, and it has suddenly risen to the level of the national consciousness.

What we are seeing playing out before our very eyes is in a sense why the law doesn’t work. The law, apart from Christ, is about the minimum. It’s about what is required of you. But even when we keep the minimum, there is still something inside of us that knows the truth. It’s the nagging feeling that there is something else. Something more.

And then here comes Jesus, and He takes it to another level:

“Murder you say? Well, there’s something more. Murder isn’t just about the physical act of killing. It’s about thinking ill of someone in your heart, too.”

Jesus won’t let us settle for the minimum. He fulfills the law, body and heart. And thankfully, He fulfills it on our behalf. But in so doing, He gives us a new heart, one that doesn’t only feel the need for something more, but actually desires to do it. To love, and to not just murder.

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