Steve Smith is (or was) the captain of the Australian cricket team. He cheated, was caught cheating, and admitted to cheating.

He’s a professional athlete. His sportsmanship is his product, as much as his skill, teamwork, leadership, commitment to training and cricket brain. He’s paid at least $1.5 million per year, not for the value of his humanity, but for the economic value he offers in a free market where people pay more for things that are scarce. Brand endorsements would push that wage much higher. But his integrity is an indispensable part of his value to the game and to sponsors, for without it, how do we know the outcome we invest in is a thrilling competition of athletes, or a worthless display of grubbery?

Barnaby Joyce was the vice captain of the Australian government. He also cheated, was caught cheating, and admitted to cheating. Not in anything to do with what he is actually paid to do, and yet we saw a witch hunt through the news media and social media which said if he can’t keep his word to his wife, how can we trust his word to his electorate and our Parliament? He was forced to resign from everything except his legally held electorate seat – at least until the next election. Remember, his electorate also loves him because he works incredibly hard for them and represents them brilliantly, and overwhelmingly re-endorsed him at the recent by-election.

When I found out about the cricket cheating, I wondered how those men could ever play again with that black mark on their character. It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a moment to destroy it. How could we make cricketers who’d worked as hard but never been tempted to so clinically attempt to break the well known rules sit on the bench while these guys take the field again? I’m all for redemption and restoration, but if the objective is fairness, how is that fair to those whose reputation is spotless?

Shane Warne’s off-field antics certainly deprived him of captaincy, yet he was probably the best man for the job. It’s a well-known fact that in Australia, the national test team baggy green is an incredible honour with an immense weight of responsibility upon the shoulders of those lucky few who get the call. Even weightier is the captaincy of those men.

Australia still has not forgotten the national shame of “that underarm delivery” nearly 40 years ago – not even against the rules at the time, but nevertheless against the spirit of the game, the code of sportsmanship. Some of the commentary about this fresh scandal have been patently ridiculous. “He’s so young, he didn’t know what he was doing, give him a break.” He’s 28! At what age will he finally learn right from wrong if not now?

Like Barnaby, Steve fronted the cameras to ‘fess up and apologise to those he’d hurt, especially his family. We all felt his pain, and who wouldn’t feel sorry for him, me included, as he wept uncontrollably as he talked about the deep regret he felt for the pain he caused his old man.

But Smith has been banned from all cricket for a year, and from being eligible to be captain again for another year after that. And that sent Australia reeling. Alan Jones and others tastelessly compared him to a Messiah crucified on Good Friday. I thought he was lucky to not get banned for life, but what do I know. I don’t know how he comes back from this.

But there are those who wax theological about this, as if Jesus died to make cheating at cricket okay. It’s not okay. Jesus can still welcome Steve Smith in heaven one day, but down here: if you do the crime, you do the time. The clearly lacking knowledge in Steve Smith’s decision-making process that fateful day, now shared with all in his moving presser upon arrival home, was that every action has a consequence, and those consequences affect you and those around you.

I’ve seen the public reaction to the scandal described as bullying. That’s not quite as over the top as Jones replacing the crucified Christ on Good Friday with the rich guy who can’t play cricket for a year, but come on. Expecting a cheat to lose the highly paid and hotly contested privilege of representing Australia is not anything like bullying. No wonder we’re breeding a generation of snowflakes who need safe spaces to avoid melting in the mild heat of critical thinking.

I’ve seen more a few spiritual friends take Jesus’ words, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” way out of context. “Throwing stones,” in its original context, isn’t criticism! It’s capital punishment, execution, a death sentence. Do we really think Jesus meant we can’t say bad behaviour is wrong? Consistent application of that poor exegesis must mean we oppose all consequences for sin, bad decisions, poor judgement, and crime. Sloppy interpretation like that is not helpful, and frequently repeated by in cynical attempts to silence Christians who vocalise any thoughts on public policy.

And here’s the real lesson we all should take this opportunity to learn from Steve Smith.

There is right and wrong. There is no such thing as your truth. Your feelings don’t trump the facts. The ends you think are important don’t justify unjust means. Humanistic relativism is a shallow philosophy with a deep impact. There are inevitable consequences to be faced for poorly thought through decisions and actions.

Misplaced compassion avoiding confrontation in teachable moments is a cruelty that merely delays the lessons needed to avoid greater pains from worse decisions later in life. What Australian kids (and 28 year olds) should be learning from this is that there are always consequences. They should not be coddled or given participation trophies. Failure is your friend if you learn from it and grow wiser, more determined to do better next time.

What Jesus did say, in a context that is applicable to this scandal, was, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

I don’t think I’ve heard anyone condemning Steve Smith to hell and damnation and to forever wander the Simpson Desert as a social pariah for his crimes of tampering with the ball. Maybe there have been; the odds are fair that in 25 million people a few keyboard warriors will be hyperventilating. But surely we can ignore those few raw prawns, and not feel condemned ourselves for suggesting that Chapel, Warne, Joyce and Smith all deserved the consequences given for predictably bad decisions.

Life’s not fair. It’s harsh. We don’t need to make it harder by being jerks about other people’s suffering, but we also will make it harder if we continue to try to make it fair. Because that’s just not the real world, and wishing it were different doesn’t make it so, and attempting to force it to be “fair” was an unequivocally disastrous experiment in the last century with 120 million dead.

There’s good news, though. Despite the harshness of the reality of life, we get better. We get better personally when we learn how to avoid repeating painful experiences. We’re better as a world. We have more freedom and prosperity than any age ever before us. Freedom and prosperity together give greater opportunities to everyone to avoid pain.

If we don’t want the next generation to be childless, penniless and homeless, we have to let them take responsibility for their decisions. To be truly compassionate, as they come of age, we have to let them feel the pain of non-fatal failures to help them become adults capable of life in the real world.

Steve Smith’s mistake isn’t fatal. There are many other rewarding and challenging careers other than elite cricket. He’ll survive. I’m not a bully for saying so, and he hasn’t been crucified by anyone.

I think it was Jim Maxwell who I heard compassionately say it best, “There is life after this.”

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