“I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
How can I ever forget my first face-to-face conversation with a jailed sex offender who had so terribly hurt innocent children? How can I forget the Easter Sunday when I spoke with a young man serving a life sentence for murder, who had just viciously attacked another inmate I had become quite attached to during his regular visits to our chapel services? As a new chaplain in a maximum security prison, I remember being overwhelmed with anger, to say nothing of disgust, despair, and even hatred that, at the time, I was sure was quite holy.
Psalm 139:19–22 describes quite explicitly what David was suddenly so concerned about in his own life: he loved to hate the wicked. Maybe God was not so pleased with the way David judged and condemned. Maybe the searching Spirit was whispering to him, “For God so loves the world.”
The old David unfortunately would have been able to fit quite well into today’s evangelical Christian population, which often feels more compelled to judge than to love, connect, and bring hope. The new David was able to love the world’s worst and, through that love, give them hope of restoration. Today, the new David would make a great prison or community chaplain. In fact, I am sure he would simply make a great follower of Jesus.
There were many more conversations that followed my first conversations with these two men. The Holy Spirit used them to change me into a far better disciple of Jesus, and into a better chaplain. While these men had committed horrific acts, my connecting with them soon made it clear to me just how much they also thirsted for healing, salvation, and restoration. And I finally understood just how much God thirsted to meet and restore them.
SCRIPTURE TO REFLECT ON: PSALM 139:19–24
1. Does the seriousness of an offense keep you from seeing the hurt, brokenness, and deep needs of an offender? How do you feel about following closely Someone who was judged, condemned, and crucified with real offenders to whom he reached out and offered hope?
2. If you are a disciple of Jesus, do you represent a God of love and restoration as much toward a “really big sinner” as you do toward an “average sinner”? And where do you place yourself on your sinner scale?
Noteworthy Resource: The Angel Tree program
The challenges of a prison sentence don’t stop at the gate. With a heart of compassion and training from Prison Fellowship, you can help ex-prisoners struggling to return to the community as productive citizens, and you can offer hope to families coping with a loved one’s incarceration.
Here is a link if you are interested in finding out more ways to get involved: http://www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved