Clarence Thomas’s God-Centered Submission

Clarence Thomas was confirmed to be a Supreme Court Justice on October 15, 1991 after one of the most divisive confirmation battles in history. He tells the story movingly in his autobiography My Grandfather’s Son.

What many may not know is how he handled the tidal wave of lurid accusation and public humiliation. Here is what he said.

I had been reading Bible verses all summer, and as the confirmation process ground on, I spent even more time doing so. I knew that many good people were working tirelessly to help get me confirmed, but that knowledge no longer calmed my nerves or lifted my spirits. The more hopeless things appeared and the more vulnerable I felt, the more I turned to God’s comforting embrace.

And over time my focus became primarily God centered. The words of the apostle Paul were never far from my mind: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (249)

It had long since become clear to me that this battle was at bottom spiritual, not political, and so my attention shifted from politics to the inward reality of my spiritual life. I had been proud of my work at EEOC and the Department of Education, and no less proud that I’d spent nearly a decade in the public eye without being touched by personal scandal.

Might I have been too proud? It occurred to me for the first time that I had cherished my good name in the same way that a wealthy man cherishes his money. I remembered how Jesus had told the rich man to give away his fortune and “come and follow me." Perhaps I would have to renounce my pride to endure this trial....

In addition to suspecting that I had committed the sin of pride, I saw that I was resisting what God had put before me. “Father, let this cup pass away from me,” Jesus had prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. “But thy will, not mine be done.” The second half of His prayer is the harder part. Until then I’d been concentrating on wanting the confirmation debate to come to an end, drawing back from total submission to God’s will. Now I had no choice but to submit completely....

I had faith that His transcendent purpose would sustain me to the end of it—and beyond. He had never failed me. Even in my darkest hours, even when I openly rejected Him, His forgiving and sustaining Grace had always been there. (254-255)

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.