If you have found yourself in a conversation with me in the past two weeks, there’s a good chance I’ve brought up the Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos story. After listening to an 11 hour audiobook and a six episode podcast about her rise and fall in silicon valley, I’ve asked myself why I’m so intrigued by this story. If you haven’t listened to me ramble on about it and you’re asking yourself, “Who in the world is Elizabeth Holmes?” here’s a quick summary:
Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos' founder and CEO, dropped out of Stanford University at age 19 to launch Theranos in 2003 as a cheaper, more efficient alternative to traditional blood testing. After serious allegations about the legitimacy of the company’s technology, Theranos’ valuation of $9 billion collapsed, and Holmes along with a former COO were indicted on federal fraud charges in June 2018. The podcast (The Dropout) and book (Bad Blood) seek to tell the story of Elizabeth’s demise through first hand accounts of former employees, investors, and journalists.
Now, I’m about to ask something from you. Instead of hearing this story and thinking, “Wow what a shame someone could go to such great lengths just for money and fame,” I want you to ask yourself, “In what areas of my life am I like Elizabeth Holmes?”
Sin has a sneaky way of revealing itself to us when we have gone much too far than we ever intended. The World, The Flesh, and The Devil want us to think we are doing just fine until suddenly we are in uncharted waters wondering how we got so far from shore. Listening to Elizabeth’s story has made me reflect on where she went wrong, and how we can apply steps in our lives to keep our souls from going where we never intended on going in the first place.
1) You cannot serve two masters - Elizabeth’s technology was a healthcare device that would give blood test results. The catch was, it never worked consistently well, and she knew it. In some very real instances, this caused patients to take medical care steps for illnesses they didn’t even have. Elizabeth put the money she would gain from partners and investors before the lives of patients.
We cannot serve God and money (Matt 6:24) just like she could not serve money and patients. The Bible makes this so clear through several parables spoken by Jesus (Luke 16:13). We must rely on the Lord for our provision and sustenance - our daily bread (Matt 6:11). When we serve money over God, we are serving an idol made in the image of man. When have you treated others in a sinful way because the stake of money was in the balance?
2) Put yourself around others who will hold you accountable - Elizabeth ran a company of 700 employees including scientists and researchers who were working on her technology. There was very high turnover of employees. Why? When someone would question the product or the process of the technology, they were fired. If someone suggested the quality control was skewed, they were fired. She didn’t want to hear someone tell her she was running her business unethically. Elizabeth may not be facing criminal charges today if she took some of these critiques to heart and slowed down the roll out of her devices to stores.
We must not run away from loving and wise rebuke (1 John 1:8-10). When we only surround ourselves with friends who “only lift us up and ‘support’ us” and not those who love us too much to leave us in our sin, we are not pursuing holiness and will find ourselves in very deep sinful patterns before we realize they even started.
Elizabeth convinced herself, along with many others, that she was doing a revolutionary work for humanity while in reality she was lying about the legitimacy of her device in order to keep cash flowing. Have you sought a seemingly good end through self-justified sinful behavior? Have you closed off relationships that convicted you about a certain sinful behavior?
3) We must have a repentant heart - Elizabeth still hasn’t pleaded guilty to defrauding investors. According to a former employee, he saw Elizabeth this past January and she didn’t apologize or even act like there was a wrong doing on her end for his firing. It is also alleged she is pursuing another technology venture while she is still on trial for her time at Theranos.
When we see our sin, it is the grace of God and the Holy Spirit that gives us eyes to see and brings us to our knees with a contrite heart (again, see 1 John 1:8-10). When we have this posture, we can come to the ones we’ve hurt and ask for forgiveness (Matt 6:14-15). We can do this because we have seen that we have fallen so short of the glory of God, yet he still pursues a relationship with us and still covers us with his mercy. This allows us to battle our sin patterns and have freedom from them - the freedom you can only receive through being In Christ (Rom 8:1).
It is one thing if we sin and then quickly come to the Lord through repentance, but it is another thing if we live in a perpetual sinful pattern with no returning to the Lord with a contrite heart. Is there something in your life that you are living in sinful bondage to? Have you sinned against God and others and have yet to reconcile either? Do not hope that time will fix all, but run to the cross where mercy is given.
So what was Elizabeth missing that we could be missing too?
What draws many of us to stories like Elizabeth’s is that we think this could never happen to us. That we are so separated from this story that it is entertainment. We may never defraud investors of upwards of 700 million dollars in our lifetime, but we may slip into a sin pattern that leaves irreparable damage to relationships, jobs, or even the view of all Christians to others. But lift up your faces, there is good news for us and even for Elizabeth Holmes if the Holy Spirit lifts the veil from over her eyes:
No matter how small or big our sin may feel or look, God is Bigger. God is Sovereign. God is Merciful. God is Just. He has known before time every sin you will ever commit, and Jesus paid for every bit of it on the Cross (John 19:30). He knew you intimately before the beginning of time, and still chose to love you like He loves his perfect son (Eph 1:11). Will you take this love over Money? Over Power? Over an Affair? Over Comfort?