Last week I read a very interesting article. I know you probably don’t have the time or inclination to read it, so here’s a quick summary: A young man from Denver, Colorado was arrested and jailed for armed robbery. After ten years in prison, he comes home a changed man. He starts a family, finds a good job, and becomes involved in his community. After five years of freedom, he is told that his release was a mistake, and he is re-arrested and carried back to prison, where he is to remain for at least the next forty years.
The article raises many interesting questions for me. It highlights the dangers of overly broad applications of existing laws. It shows how handing out punishment without discretion can be good politics but cause terrible pain. It begs the question of whether harsh sentencing actually creates worse criminals. Would it be better to give shorter sentences, or at least early parole possibilities to younger offenders, so that they can have the chance to use their prison time to prepare for a better life? Could showing grace to criminals cause some of them to change their ways? However, one thing has really haunted me.
At the very end of the article the imprisoned man is being interviewed at the jail. He says that the reason why he’s back in prison is because he failed God while on the outside. He gives a few examples, which include coaching a soccer team some Sundays instead of attending church services, not praying often enough, and not studying the Bible regularly. I feel for him. For most of my life I viewed every setback as a sign that I was failing God in some way. It was easy enough, whenever things went wrong in my life, to find an instance of my own moral failings in the not-so-distant past.
Over the past few years, though, I’ve begun to question that viewpoint. It’s not that I think sin doesn’t matter. Rather, I think sin is its own punishment. I hope that someone in that prison can tell this man that cutting him off from his family and community is not God’s method of encouraging greater faithfulness. The fact is that we live in a broken and decaying world, filled with the fruit of mankind’s evil. Bad things happen to the faithful. Sometimes, it seems like they suffer more.
If suffering from evil deepen our relationship with the one who rescued us, that is a wonderful thing, but we shouldn’t think that was the intention. We have an enemy who wants to destroy us, mind, body, and soul, and we have a savior who wants to restore his entire creation. Sometimes we make progress toward that goal, and manifest his kingdom on earth. Other times the world attacks and destroys something beautiful. Either way, we press on, not because we fear God’s whip on our backs, but because we long for the day when all the world will see him face to face.