Reverend Jesse Jackson has tried to provide some biblical foundation for those who wish that the nation would forgive and forget President Clinton’s behavior. Jackson compared Clinton to another great sinner and penitent, King David. However, those who remember the complete history of that royal adultery will find the comparison somewhat less than reassuring. We, like many others, have grave doubts about the sincerity of President Clinton’s repentance. He is obviously very sorry that he was caught in adultery and the tangle of lies with which he tried to hide it. He may even be sorry that he has caused his daughter great pain. But true repentance requires a changed life, and there is no evidence of that. Moreover, even true repentance did not save David and Israel from the consequences of his sin.
King David lusted after Bathsheba. He had many wives and concubines, but in the season when kings go off to war, he neglected his duties. Lounging around the palace, he was tempted by the sight of Bathsheba and fell. He impregnated her, and tried to conceal the adultery by bringing her husband back from the wars to sleep with her. Uriah would not lie with his wife because he would not live in pleasure while his comrades in battle were in the field, suffering and in danger. Uriah was a Hittite and a pagan. David arranged for Uriah’s death in battle. Nathan the prophet confronted David, and David’s reaction was not to attack the prophet, but to repent. He repented sincerely and profoundly; his psalms of repentance are still said today. But God still punished him. David’s infant son, conceived in adultery, died, despite David’s praying in sackcloth and ashes. Even after he forgives us, God still sends us what Catholics call temporal punishment. God lets justice work its way out in time, perhaps to show us that our sins have consequences, for ourselves and for others.
David’s incontinence had consequences far beyond his lifetime. His children inherited his character flaws. Amnon raped his half-sister, and for this was killed by his brother Absalom. Because of David’s weakness of character, he could not discipline Absalom, and Absalom rebelled. Solomon shared his father’s lack of sexual restraint and introduced idolatry into Israel by his foreign wives. Israel was punished for this idolatry by the division of the kingdom, by the disappearance of the Northern Kingdom, and by the Babylonian Exile. The compilers of the Pentateuch saw the same flaws at work at the beginning of human history, when Adam followed his wife into disobedience rather than obeying the law of the Most High.
Clinton’s flaws mirror America’s. The entertainment on channels that were not showing Clinton’s grand jury testimony was as sleazy as the testimony. The majority of Americans still approve of his presidency and want him to remain in office. The liberal media are surprisingly harsh with Clinton. They seem genuinely horrified by the lies and reckless behavior, and even more disturbed by the lack of public disapproval. The liberal media have for decades undermined any concept of public morality and decency in sexual matters and have perhaps corrupted public standards more than they intended.
What could happen to America as a temporal punishment for Clinton’s misbehavior and the public’s complicity in it? The world financial markets are in crisis. A strong American President might well be able to reassure the markets by simply promising to do whatever is necessary—and then doing nothing. Confidence is everything in these matters. However, Clinton’s weakness is known in every corner of the globe.
The financial crisis could bring about an economic crisis similar to that of the Great Depression. Russia is in terrible straits and is still heavily armed. A nationalist-fascist takeover is a strong possibility. Indeed Chinese communism seems to be mutating into some form of fascism, and calls for strong men to end the economic crisis and bring social peace will be heard in many countries. If the fascism that comes about is a mild dictatorship like Mussolini’s, the world will be fortunate. It will more probably be something far uglier.
Or perhaps anarchy will result. States may lose their legitimacy, and without states to provide some framework of safety and security, modern economies will collapse. Or perhaps different countries will take different routes. Whatever happens, the world will be less prosperous and far more dangerous than it is now.
The flaws of rulers affect their countries. Even in a kingdom, a king rules by the implicit consent of the governed. An elected ruler is chosen by the people, and a plurality of the American people voted for Clinton, many because they wanted him to keep all types of abortion legal so that they could indulge their appetites without consequences. In this case, a people gets the government it deserves. Did they expect a man who sees nothing wrong with sucking the brains out of babies in the birth canal to have a sensitive conscience about adultery and perjury?
—Leon J. Podles, for the editors
Leon J. Podles holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia and has worked as a teacher and a federal investigator. He is the author of The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity and the forthcoming License to Sin (both from Spence Publishing). Dr. Podles and his wife have six children and live in Naples, Florida. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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