Molestation of children is certainly a deadly serious sin, and it is also a crime. Therefore it must not be treated casually or dismissed lightly. Yet I think some perspective is needed when looking at the Josh Duggar case. From what is being reported, Josh Duggar was only a boy of 14 when over a period of a year or so he inappropriately touched five different girls as they slept (sometimes they were not asleep). The victims including some of his own sisters. His young age doesn’t excuse these terrible acts, but perhaps such acts may be understood as a boy not knowing how to deal with awakening sexual feelings and acting upon them in a highly inappropriate manner. But Josh recognized what he had done was wrong. He confessed his actions to his parents and before his church, and subsequently received help. The authorities were eventually also contacted and made aware of the situation. It doesn’t seem any formal charges were ever made by authorities against the boy or his parents. It might be argued that more severe action should have been taken by the Duggars to deal with their son, in light of the very serious nature of their son’s actions. Josh Duggar apparently underwent 3 months of Christian counseling, which included hard physical labor. Was such adequate for him to have overcome the pattern? I don’t know.
But the thing is, it does seem Mr. Duggar changed. He did not continue in the sinful and destructive pattern– but rather, it seems he made a complete about-face. Apparently he went on to become a very different person, eventually maturing into a decent husband and now, a father. And now, twelve years later, when confronted again with his past (which I am sure he wants desperately to put behind him) he does not cover up his guilt, but owns up to his wicked past acts (publicly confessing, apologizing, not excusing his actions; quitting his position with the Family Research Council).
I think there is a big difference between an unrepentant adult pedophile, and a young teenager of 14 who acted inappropriately but then confessed and actually changed his life. Perhaps if Mr. Duggar had NOT confessed his actions and reached out for help he might have continued his sinful pattern and become irrevocably hardened in it. But apparently he genuinely overcame his pattern and has left it far behind. Of course, he will have to live with remorse and with the consequences of what he did, knowing he caused great harm through his sins. It is to be greatly hoped that his victims have also received the help they need to cope with how they were violated, and are finding healing too.
But in a world where few ever even admit they did something wrong, let alone take responsibility for their bad actions, it is commendable that this young man, with God’s help, seems to have turned his life entirely around as he admitted his guilt, and found forgiveness of his sins and power to change through Jesus Christ. Even if one cynically dismisses the idea that he has really changed, it should still command respect that Mr. Duggar did not continue the pattern of wrong behavior, but owned up to it and changed it. For those of us who believe God is in the business of changing lives supernaturally, through the precious gospel of forgiveness through Christ and by the work of His Spirit in sinful hearts, the story of Josh Duggar offers hope and encouragement. It shows God can really change a person who is willing to confess and repent and ask for help. Let us hope and pray that Mr. Duggar’s repentance was indeed fully genuine, that good fruit continues, and especially that the victims in this case, who have not really been heard from, are finding restoration and healing too.
We must remember that the gospel is about how the Jesus’ death on a cross is a substitute for what we as wrongdoers deserve (Is 53:4-5; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 3:23-25). We deserve to be punished, but He– though innocent– takes our sin and our guilt and our shame on His own shoulders. By His blood shed on the cross, He washes sinners clean from the very worst of sins– there is no sin, in fact, beyond God’s redemptive reach (1 Cor 6:9-11; Eph 2:3-6). The depth of the love, grace and mercy of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ is simply unfathomable. God not only forgives through Jesus but then by His Spirit begins a powerful process of changing people from the inside out. He takes murderers, adulterers– the vilest, most wicked and most depraved sinners– and washes them clean, changing the trajectory of their lives by renewing their minds and giving them new hearts (1 Cor 6:9-111; Rom 12:2). He is cleansing and transforming lowly, wicked sinners into His own perfect and spotless image (1 John 3:2-3). It is a supernatural, lifelong process that won’t be completed in the believer’s lifetime. But this is the redemptive work God is doing (Heb 10:14; Rom 8:18; 1 Tim 2:12-13).
In light of this, is Josh Duggar beyond redemption? Did he commit the “unpardonable” sin? No. The only sin that puts people out of reach of this marvelous redemption is the sin of continued unbelief (John 3:18). There is no sin so wicked that God cannot forgive it; no life so shameful and vile that God cannot turn it around(1 John 1:9). But if we reject so great a salvation as is available through Jesus Christ, we shut the door upon our only hope as sinners (Heb 2:3). Josh Duggar is a wicked sinner. So am I. So is every one of us. Therefore let us put down the stones of condemnation, turn to Jesus and find in Him grace to walk as forgiven but transformed sinners, who look ahead to the day when sin will be fully eradicated from our hearts, and we will live together with God in a new and perfect world that shines brightly, lit solely by the holy glory of God.