A 3,000-year-old question offers an important challenge for Christians today.
Coming off a tremendous victory at Jericho, described in Joshua 6, the people of Israel moved on to Ai where the Lord assured them victory as long as they didn’t take any devoted items from Jericho (Joshua 6:18).
A man named Achan did not listen to this prohibition but instead took the devoted items without the knowledge of the others.
His actions caused great collateral damage, as the citizens of Ai killed 36 Israelites and caused anxiety in the camp (Joshua 7:5).
Joshua soon realized that there was “sin in the camp.” Achan’s sin was discovered, and he and all he owned were taken to the Valley of Achor, meaning “trouble.” In a Hebrew play on words, “achor” was coming upon “Achan.”
The question Joshua asked him in the valley is a pointed one. “Why have you brought this trouble on us?” (Joshua 7:25)
Recently we have witnessed some terrible, surprising news.
Jared Fogle was a wonderful success story, losing more than 400 pounds following the “Subway diet,” becoming the company’s spokesperson, starting a foundation to help obese children and serving as an inspiration to others.
However, he was hiding a terrible secret. Since 2007, he had been using the Internet and social networking sites to arrange meetings with underage girls for sexual activity.
Then, there’s reality TV star Josh Duggar. Earlier this year, he was forced to apologize after reports emerged alleging improper contact with girls, including his sisters.
Many prominent Christian leaders came to his defense, saying he was the victim of anti-Christian bias.
Now he is apologizing after being outed as one of 32 million people who used the cheating website Ashley Madison.
“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever,” Duggar said. “While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the Internet and I became unfaithful to my wife.”
Both Fogle’s and Duggar’s actions are inexcusable and harmful. The surprising nature of these disgusting actions has impacted not only their own futures but also those who believed in them.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time things like this have happened and it won’t be the last.
Such actions should not only be condemned, but also should give Christians reason to pause and think about areas of our own lives that are not as they should.
It is easy to focus on sins with which we don’t have trouble but more difficult to face those present in our own lives.
The Bible is clear: We are all sinners. What frequently gives me heartburn is the number of Christians who take an exalted moral stance while hiding secret sins. It’s no wonder the church is having credibility problems.
I am mindful of my shortcomings, which makes me more sympathetic and cautious in offering criticism to those who are genuinely seeking to live a better life but “slip and fall” along the way.
There is an appropriate way to deal with sin: confession. It’s not easy to do, which is the main reason we choose to hide our transgressions.
The cycle of Genesis 3 played itself out in Achan’s actions and subsequently appears in ours as well: I saw. I desired (lusted). I took. I ate. I hid.
It’s the same formula at work today, and it impacts each and every one of us. Joshua’s question to Achan, “Why have you brought this trouble on us?” remains an important inquiry even now.
Achan’s sin impacted an entire community as they were brought into “the Valley of Trouble” to confront Achan. The consequences were serious and terrible.
I’ve been a pastor long enough to have seen the terrible affect that sin can have on a community of faith. Spiritual and emotional immaturity can be imported into the church.
Sometimes, pastors are to blame for this. We can displace the frustration and disappointment we have in our own lives onto the faith community, and at times the faith leaders.
If not addressed properly, the level of trust will be diminished and the level of fear and anxiety will increase.
There is always a correlation between trust and fear. The higher the trust, the lower the fear level. And vice versa.
For all the conversation about growth and the decline of the church, we must take time to address the health of congregations by recognizing that our own attitudes, actions and transgressions can have a positive or negative impact on the community of faith.
This means having the courage to take the descent into the “valley of trouble” to confront our own sinfulness.
Fortunately, we don’t have to remain there. There is forgiveness and restoration available through Christ.
God’s people can come out of that valley with a greater appreciation for our own mortality and need for grace, and in so doing extend those blessings to others.
Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri. A longer version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ChisholmDanny.