I wanted to say so much more!
I stood today waiting for the ‘up’ elevator at the hospital, when the doors flung open, and there was a prisoner in a wheel chair (in full prison-garb) flanked by security guards, police and medical personnel. I said, as I always do when the lift is going in my direction, “Mind if I join you?” The prisoner responded, “As long as you don’t mind being on here with the scum of the earth.” Instinctively I replied, “You’re not the scum of the earth”. He said, “Well the majority of people think I’m scum!” “You’re not scum!” I insisted. He said “as soon as people see me in ‘these pajamas’ they know I’m scum”. I repeated, “You’re not scum! You’ve got to stop believing the lie!”
Unfortunately, I was only traveling one or two stories, so I disembarked and that was the end of the conversation. But I couldn’t shake his image from my mind. I couldn’t get his words out of my head.
I don’t know this man. As far as I know, I’d never seen him before. I don’t know what crime (or crimes) he may have committed. I don’t know how heinous his actions or how serious his offenses. But I cannot bring myself to think of this living, breathing human being as “the scum of the earth”. As I walked away from that elevator, I kept thinking of all the things I might have said had I just 30 seconds longer to complete my elevator talk, or better yet, 5 minutes. “God loves you” although so true, and so important for him to believe, seemed so trite in that space. “You believed the lie that you are scum, and then you acted on it”! Again, probably true, but perhaps a bit presumptuous.
The fact is, God DOES truly love this individual, knowing full well every word he has ever uttered, every deed he has ever committed, every secret thought or attitude he has ever entertained. He also knows every heartache, every disappointment, every negative experience; He knows every idle word or accusation that was ever uttered against him; every act of abuse perpetrated toward him; every insult ever hurled at him; He has seen every tear, heard every cry, and felt every pain.
Does any of that justify His crime?
Does it excuse his actions?
Does it atone for his wrongdoings?
But it does point to a God who is full of mercy and tender in compassion; a living, loving God who is not unacquainted with our suffering.
In one sense, that prisoner and I are no different. Our state and our potential fate are the same. The only difference between him and me is the decisions we’ve made. Somewhere along the line, for whatever reasons, that man began making a series of very bad decisions. And decisions always have consequences. Just like me, and just like every other human being on the face of the earth, that guy is a sinner, badly in need of God’s mercy. Whether our sins are secret sins that nobody sees (bitterness, envy, pride, lust), or “acceptable sins” that everybody does (“little white lies”, gossip, angry outbursts), or big, glaring, horrific sins that are worthy of incarceration, in God’s eyes we have ALL sinned and fallen far short of His design for us. That sin has caused a chasm between us and God – a huge gulf that we cannot cross even with all the good intentions and acts of charity in the world. Saying our prayers, reading our Bibles, going to church, refraining from evil, won’t cut it. We all sinned and we all must suffer the consequences – and the ultimate consequence is death!
That’s the bad news!
The good news is that Jesus already suffered our ultimate consequence when He died on the Cross and literally took upon Himself every sin that has ever been committed – before or since – and suffered the punishment that every one of us deserve.
There seriously is only one catch!
Like any gift freely offered, we have to receive it. How do we do that? The short, Bible answer is, “repent and believe the Gospel” (Jesus, in Mark 1:15). “REPENT” means to not only confess to God that we have sinned, but to utterly and completely forsake our sins and turn away from them; a 180 degree turn; an about face, as it were – no longer walking in our own direction but turning and going in God’s direction. And “BELIEVE” is more than just mental assent, it means ready to stake our lives on the claims of the Gospel: acknowledging in our hearts that what we have done is worthy of eternal separation from God, and that what Jesus did, He did for us personally. HIS suffering and death was for MY sins; HIS resurrection and victory over death means MY resurrection to eternal life!
And this gift is available for all people everywhere: from the self-confessed “scum-bags” who find themselves in prison clothes; to the corporate CEOs sitting on millions of dollars; from the likes of me, to the likes of you!
My prayer is that everyone who reads this will “repent and believe the Gospel”, thus receiving God’s good gifts of mercy and grace.