Joe Pa and the Shelf Life of Grace

This past weekend, former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno died at the age of 85. The legendary coach had spent the last 6 months under scrutiny for his lack of proactivity in pursuing a child sex abuse scandal in his own football program. Many of the people who didn’t know the name Joe Pa now know it well and not because of football. This may seem like I'm stating the obvious, but I believe  it needed to be stated plainly for this post to make sense.

This is probably the most public time for any indiscretion in the history of the world. With a few clicks you can have access to the grand jury testimony against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. You can have access to interviews and details that you’d rather not have. You can see in living, vivid colors the contours of a life altering and life damaging serial abuser working under the knowledge of accountable, professional adults for several years – all the time promoting a charity that was supposed to be helping.

The mountain of details is damning.

The public scrutiny is beyond comprehension.

So where is grace?

I’ve heard sports radio commentators remark that Joe Pa should just go somewhere and “finally die” which ironically is what seems to have happened.

I know children who are now adults who are trying to make sense of the emotions and actions they feel prompted to deal with on a daily basis because somewhere along the way the person they trusted turned on them.

So where is grace?

In the midst of all this, how long of a shelf-life does grace have according to those who follow Jesus?

This isn’t about college football. I’m a college football fan, but the more I live and learn from Jesus the more I realize how liminal and temporary the whole college sports world can be. The Penn State scandal transcends it. It is beyond just men playing a boys’ sport with millions on the line.

This is a story about sin. About evil. About grace, I think. Eventually this story will be about grace and forgiveness and the light that is now shining on the scandal will hopefully become the “light that comes into the world” even though “the world [knows] it not.” (John 1).

So, how deep does grace go for Joe Pa? How deep does it go for Jerry Sandusky and the rest of the crew at Penn State?

This question matters because, as much as we may want to avoid it, to the extent that people who follow Jesus and hope to break the cycle of unforgiveness and bitterness are willing to go in extending forgiveness to those in extreme circumstances is the extent to which we testify that grace has been brought to us.

The shelf-life of grace for others exists in proportion to the amount of grace we have claimed for ourselves.