On August 24th, John Gibson killed himself. John was a communications professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He was a husband, and a father of two grown children. He had experienced and struggles with addiction. And when the hacked list of Ashley Madison subscribers was leaked, his name was on it. In his hopelessness and isolation, John made the decision that death was his best option.
This is gut-wrenching for me for so many reasons, not the least of which is that I have been in his position. Some of the details were different. I never signed up for Ashley Madison, but I did commit adultery and I was caught. I know what it feels like to have my own sinful choices descend into an enslaving addiction. I know what it feels like to believe that there is no hope. I even know (although I never seriously considered it) what it feels like to wonder if suicide is a viable escape option.
What I found out after I was exposed – and I desperately wish John would have allowed himself to experience – is the grace, hope, and healing that can come to even the worst offender. Because I’ve walked in recovery from sexual addiction since 2009, I’ve learned the truth about who I am, who God is, and how He wants to relate to me in my sin and brokenness. But before He exposed me, I couldn’t see any of it. I was living a double life, keeping my struggle completely hidden and isolating myself from anyone who could have spoken the Gospel into my situation.
Recovery groups like AA have a term – “stinking thinking” – for what’s going on in the mind of a person who is isolating and hiding. Stinking thinking is when we believe the lies of our inner critic (or for the Christian, our spiritual enemy). These lies keep us in hiding, far from the people who might extend grace to us if they knew our struggles.
Where does this stinking thinking come from? In his book Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, Dr. Patrick Carnes outlines the four core beliefs that exist in an addict. Basically, all addicts believe…
1. I am basically a bad, unworthy person. (This belief often stems from abandonment & wounds from life experiences.)
2. No one would love me as I am. (This leads to putting on a mask – an image of myself so people can not really know me and thus possibly reject me)
3. My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend on others. (Therefore, it’s up to me to meet my own needs.)
4. _____________ is my most important need. (Could be porn/sex, alcohol, drugs, or any other process or substance that my life experience has taught me to run to in an attempt to numb or medicate my pain.)
Stinking thinking stems from holding to these core beliefs. When I was spending my entire life keeping shameful secrets, I was constantly heaping more and more shame on myself, and the weight became unbearable. Had God not exposed me when He did, I can see how I might have reached a level of despair where suicide might have been an option I seriously considered.
Once my sin and addiction were exposed, however, the most unexpected thing happened. Life continued. I didn’t lose everything and everyone. I didn’t experience rejection from God. Yes, there were definite (and huge) consequences, and there has been a great deal of work that God has done in me and my family through the process of recovery. But all the worst things I feared didn’t actually come to pass. And there is no way you could have convinced me of that before it happened. God had to break me, bring me low, and tear down every isolating wall I had constructed to protect myself – so that He could begin to build something so much better.
I wish John Gibson could hear the words I listened to today. I listened to his wife, son, and daughter talk about him. I heard them say things like…
“What we know about him is that he poured his life into other people, and he offered grace and mercy and forgiveness to everyone else, but somehow he couldn’t extend that to himself.”
“There’s brokenness in every single one of us. We all have things that we struggle with, but it wasn’t so bad that we wouldn’t have forgiven it. So many people have said that to us; but for John, it carried with him such a shame, and he just couldn’t see that.”
“I still believe that it could have been fixed. It could have been healed in our life.”
“I think the hardest thing for me to deal with was that he honestly doubted the fact that I would love him enough.”
It breaks my heart that John couldn’t believe that there was hope for him. There is always hope. This tragedy doesn’t need to happen again. If you’re someone struggling with secret sin, I beg you to take the risk of allowing your struggles to be known. Believe that there are people who would forgive you and show you grace. For all of us, I beg you to be that person. If someone opens up to you with their most shameful secrets, steward that gift well and show them grace. Walk with them, stick with them, love them as they experience the consequences of their actions, and never leave them alone. Help them remember the truth of the Gospel; if they are in Christ there is nothing that can separate them from the love of God.
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” –Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)
About The Author: Greg Oliver
Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January of 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.