I love superhero stories. The idea that a mild-mannered, shy and unassuming person could transform into a fearless superhuman and selfless protector of humanity has always intrigued me. As a kid, I was amazed by this phenomenon, primarily because I saw the possibility of greatness in each one of us, no matter how unimpressive we were on the outside. As an adult, I am still intrigued, but for slightly different reasons. What perplexes me now about these stories is the idea of two drastically different people residing in the same body. For this reason, the recent news surrounding Bill Cosby is of particular interest.
For years, Cosby represented much of what is right about America. Not only is his career as a family-friendly standup comic and actor impressive, but his mark on the larger culture has been tremendous. What he was able to accomplish through the success of The Cosby Show for the image of the American family, specifically for people of color, was monumental. For this reason, the potential that another person could reside within the same skin is difficult to comprehend.
Currently, more than 40 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct that took place over the last 40 years, including some who have come forward to say that he drugged and raped them. Of course, the courts will decide ultimately whether he is guilty or innocent; in the latest development, Cosby has countersued seven of his accusers for defamation. For now, the news is shocking and makes one wonder how a person so seemingly good on the outside can potentially have such a depraved side as well.
Our capacity for depravity never fully leaves us.
Compartmentalization is the ability for a person to place pieces of their lives in different sections. We all do it to some degree, yet most of us try to live with some kind of transcendent moral standards and personal integrity. If Cosby’s accusers are validated, he will represent the latest example of the tremendous duplicity of which human beings are capable. From Lance Armstrong to Mel Gibson, famous and respected figures routinely fall from grace. Our ability to lead such contradictory double lives is a conundrum for which secular culture has few solid explanations. This is why there is such uproar when we’re faced with an especially insidious example, such as Cosby’s may prove to be. In theology, however, the answer is simple.
Scripture teaches that each one of us has a sinful nature. While we have the capacity for righteousness and the ability to live somewhat moral lives, we are all hopelessly in need of redemption. In my church’s men’s group, we often jokingly acknowledge that we are just a few bad decisions from our darker selves. Our capacity for depravity never fully leaves us. Consequently, we all desperately need communion with God, direction from His word and Christian fellowship on a consistent basis.
We cling to these spiritual practices not because of our righteousness, but our understood lack thereof. If we recognize this theological truth about the condition of all of humanity, maybe we’d spend less time in shock when people aren’t who we think they are and more time in acknowledgement that we all need a Savior. Let Bill Cosby stand as another reminder of this.