A thing scarier, more terror-inspiring than any script to hatch from the mind of Rod Serling unfolded before our eyes in 1998; and it didn't make a whit of difference if you were Democrat or Republican because no one was excused from this preview showing.
I'm talking about an intrusion into the present of something that wasn't supposed to happen till the great by and by, something we were happy to let sleep until the day when all the books will be opened and "what you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs" (Luke 12:3). I'm talking about a president's transgressions magnified by a power of 10, projected on the big screen in a way not so spectacular since King David had to watch his own sins pantomimed before all Israel on the rooftop of the palace (2 Samuel 16:22).
We were appalled two years ago. Our mouths agape. How could it be that one who from adolescence set his face like flint toward the White House-who muscled his way to the front row to shake Kennedy's hand in the Rose Garden at age 16, who navigated the inner circles of Arkansas politics to become its youngest governor, who defied the odds to capture the prize in 1992-should be brought down by a 24-year-old intern?
The mind leapt to other "disproportionate" punishments in history: the forfeiting of Saul's kingdom for a hotheaded act of unbelief, the forfeiting of entrance to the promised land for striking a rock, the forfeiting of a birthright for an incident involving a bowl of lentil soup, the plunging of a thousand generations into misery for a bite of fruit.
We knew from our Bible reading or catechisms that "the sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them" (1 Timothy 5:24), and I for one was secretly hoping mine would trail behind a little longer. But at the same time I knew that Clinton's demise was the mene, mene, tekel, parsin warning that judgment can be always just around the corner.
I couldn't look at his face in the papers after that without seeing it branded with the stamp of Ecclesiastes 10:1: "A little folly outweighs wisdom and honor."
And then he seemed to overcome! Like the "fatal wound that seemed to have been healed" in the book of Revelation! There was the victorious Rose Garden post-impeachment celebration-love fest, and two ensuing years of collective amnesia. Had he beaten the rap?
On Aug.10 what should return like a bad penny but a morose President Clinton on the newspaper front pages, and I can tell you, brothers, that it gave me no joy. Here he was lamenting again before a gathering of evangelical ministers what it feels like "when you think you've got something behind you and then it's not behind you." It gave me no joy to see him now being held at arm's length like leprosy by his own party, no glee that he lost the wager of Agag the Amalekite at the end of the day.
Or do you think that this president was a worse sinner than you because he suffered this way? "... I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them-do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:3-5).
Let us be careful how we respond to the downfall of William Jefferson Clinton. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and neither should we in the political death of a politician. This may be less a time for champagne than for sackcloth and ashes. Having left our children the legacy of the knowledge that sin has consequences (a bargain at 12 months and 40 million dollars), let us now render unto God the sacrifice of a humble, contrite heart. And consider that maybe it was a presidency that, in one way, helped our nation after all.