God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble. —1 Peter 5:5 NKJV
When he wasn’t flying his private jet across the Atlantic or watching sunsets from the deck of one of his yachts, he was living a life of luxury inside his ten-thousand-square-foot Lexington Avenue penthouse in New York City.
His yacht Bull cost seven million dollars. His jet cost twenty-four million. He had a home in France, a beach home in Montauk, and a house in Palm Beach. He had boats and cars. His wife had furs and designer handbags, Wedgewood china, and Christofle silver. When it came to decor, she spared no expense. Gold sconces lined the wallpaper. Central Asian rugs covered the floors. Greek and Egyptian statues competed for the approval of guests.
Everyone wanted to know him. People stood in line to shake his hand. People like Steven Spielberg and Elie Wiesel. To stand in his Manhattan office was to stand in the epicenter of investment success.
Or so it seemed until the morning of December 10, 2008. That’s when the charade ended. That’s when Bernie Madoff, this generation’s most infamous scam artist, sat down with his wife and two sons and confessed that it was a “giant Ponzi scheme . . . just one big lie.”1
Over the next days, weeks, and months, the staggering details became public knowledge. Madoff had masterminded a twenty-year long shell game, the largest financial crime in US history. He had swindled people out of billions of dollars.
His collapse was of biblical proportions. In short order he was stripped of everything. No money. No future. No family. One of his sons committed suicide. His wife went into seclusion. And seventy-one-year-old Bernie Madoff was sentenced to spend the rest of his life as prisoner number 61727-054 in the Federal Correction Complex of Butner, North Carolina.
Why did he do it? What makes a man live a lie for decades? What was the trade-off for Madoff?
In a word, status. According to one biographer:
As a kid, he was spurned and humiliated for what was perceived to be his inferior intellect. . . . He was rejected by one girl after another . . . relegated to lesser classes and lesser schools. . . .
But he excelled at making money, and with it came the stature that once had eluded him.
Stature. Madoff was addicted to adulation. He was hooked on recognition. He wanted the applause of people, and money was his way of earning it. He elbowed and clawed his way to the top of the mountain, only to discover that its peak is slippery and crowded. If only he had known this promise: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NKJV).
Max Lucado, Unshakable Hope: Building Our Lives on the Promises of God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018).
I have just completed a 7 Week Bible Study Lesson Series on Max Lucado’s book Unshakable Hope. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book.