By David Hegg
Back in the ancient world of the 1980s, I served as a spiritual advisor to a university football team. Basically, I taught Bible studies, mentored many of the players, counseled them through major life decisions, and generally attempted to lay for them a foundation of morality, integrity and industry.
What I discovered has stuck with me ever since and been proven over and over. When adversity hits, and/or when temptation to evil presents itself, you had better be ethically fit, ethically strong in order to respond in a way that you won’t later regret.
I once asked a solidly built linebacker why he spent so much time in the weight room. He responded, “I want to be strong enough to stop a 225-pound fullback when he comes my way at full speed.” Simply put, he recognized the importance of being physically strong to play the game of football.
The same is true in the game of life. Unless you have strong ethical muscles, properly built and strengthened, daily small compromises will be your undoing. When adversity hits, and you need the courage of a strong belief system, you will most likely be flattened and discouraged because you lack a strong foundation for hope. When the opportunity presents itself to give rein to your secret, unethical desires, your weak ethical muscles will be unable to restrain your passion as you pursue lust and greed rather than stay true to your ethical commitments.
As a pastor I spend a bulk of my time helping people who find themselves in the pits of discouragement, despair and hopelessness. As we all know, this world is broken. Things don’t go as planned. People disappoint and hurt us. Accidents happen, sometimes with life-altering results. Health is at risk, and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. The simple truth is life is hard, pain is real and adversity is coming if not already here. So, the question isn’t how do we avoid all the pain and regret, but how can we prepare ourselves to fight through it well?
Over the years I have discovered a horrible paradox. When adversity hits, when relationships are fractured through sinful acts, when a series of failures leave us despairing and hopeless, what we need is a strong sense of ethical purpose and hope.
Yet, in far too many cases, it was the lack of a strong ethical consistency – ethical muscles! – that led to the fractures and failures in the first place! I find myself encouraging people to think rightly, act rightly, and display humility and courage when we both know it was the abandonment of those things that caused them to get run over by life. In cases like marital infidelity, what is needed to mend the relationship are the very ethical muscles they incrementally neglected to the point where they willingly exchanged faithfulness for the pleasures of sin.
If the problem is a weak ethical commitment, what’s the solution? I propose it is analogous to the football player who hits the weight room to build up muscles he knows he will need on game day. And since we don’t know when “game day” will be, it is even more important to construct and consistently strengthen through reflection, personal reformation and daily reaffirmation, a solid personal ethical system built on moral grounds. Figure out what kind of person you intend to be. Build standards to safeguard your integrity. Then be consistent in living the life you will hold yourself accountable to live, no matter what game day brings.
Of course, I recommend taking a look at the worldview – the ethical system of belief and action – presented in the Bible. After all, there’s a reason President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took their oath of office with a hand on the Bible. There’s good stuff in there that has ordered successful lives for thousands of years. But you’ve got to be all in, submitting your life to the One who gives and rewards faithful living.
Now, how about we hit the ethical weight room and do all we can to make 2021 a year where we persevere in integrity, hope and good will. That may be the only real solution to the despair-driven anger and violence that is becoming all too common in our day.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.