How the Mighty Have Fallen: A Call for Character as We Respond to the Paige Patterson Situation

What do you do when those who oppose you are hurt or defeated? How do you react when those who would make themselves your enemies are put in their place? Do you rejoice? Do you sing?

David sang when King Saul met his end. But when David sang at the death of Saul, it was not a song of celebration. Even though Saul had chased him and attempted to murder him, David sang in genuine sorrow over the death of the king.

2 Samuel 1:17-19 – 17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, 18 and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar. He said:
19 “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!

It is interesting that, in our world, the snippet of this Scripture passage that is well known is the phrase, “How the mighty have fallen!” You hear that line in the mouths of movie characters quite often. Unfortunately the line is often delivered with a sneer. Good guys or bad guys in the movies like to rejoice when people on the other side get their comeuppance.

But if we were to handle this rightly and learn from David’s example, we would learn that, even when those who were our enemies face their ends, we should experience grief. Even when the evil schemes of mean-spirited people are exposed, we should not rejoice in their pain. Of course we can and should rejoice when justice is done and when righteousness prevails. But, when people hurt, when people fall, when people die, our hearts should also have in them a sorrow for the fact that people had to come to judgment rather than repentance.

To risk a politically charged example, I think to myself of how some are likely responding to the recent removal of Paige Patterson as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Patterson’s pattern of incautious comments and the offense they caused as they were seen together made it impossible for the trustees of the seminary to keep Patterson as the school’s head. I’ll not speak to other accusations of cover-ups and the rest, as I know nothing and have no right to suspect things.

The reason I bring up Patterson, however, is the fact that there will be many on the Internet who will celebrate. Patterson has certainly not always been kind or fair in his criticisms of others. He has often spoken of the reformed or of Calvinists with a smug dismissal. I have heard him say things regarding the exegesis of biblical passages that I believe he has to know are untenable. And the harsh edge of those sorts of comments has certainly widened the divide between Patterson and those with whom he disagrees. Thus, there may be many who would, with a sneer, say, “How the mighty have fallen.”

But, Christians, let us remember that there is nothing godly about rejoicing in the fall of a brother in Christ. While we may think that the seminary trustees of SWBTS have done the right thing, there is nothing godly about somebody doing a little Internet victory dance. There is nothing godly about rejoicing in something that has brought so much hurt to many Southern Baptists who are deeply upset by Patterson’s removal.

Let’s learn from David. When a person who has opposed us falls, let us mourn. It would be so much nicer to see those who oppose us turn from that opposition and graciously change their views. It would be beautiful to have people live with character, above reproach, and with biblical fidelity in all things. But neither we nor those who think we are nuts actually live in perfect faithfulness. I’m sure that I will find, before my life comes to an end, that there are doctrinal issues I’ve missed. I would far rather have the Lord bring me to change gently than for him to have to bring my life and ministry crashing down. And If I would want the Lord to change me gently, how could I ever rejoice when a brother in Christ, flawed like me, is hit hard with the consequences of his own actions? May we give the grace that we wish to receive. May we always take the high road. May we lament at the fall of anyone, especially those who are genuine believers, regardless of whether or not they have been nice to us or our positions.

In this, I am not at all defending anyone. I believe that, in the case of Paige Patterson, his removal from the seminary presidency was overdue. But I can also mourn for the hurt all this has caused and pray that God use this time of sorrow at SWBTS and the SBC for good as he works out his plans for his glory. And I can pray that God have mercy on us all, as it is only the grace of God that keeps any of us from sinful self-destruction.