This question was posed recently by Catherine Hoke of Defy Ventures at a CIW event. Defy Ventures gives opportunities to people with criminal records so that they – at least one day – will not be known first and foremost for the worst thing they’ve ever done.
Last week, my local newspaper posted a map marked with the addresses of known child predators in our suburb so that Trick or Treaters could avoid those homes. I can’t get those marked men out of my mind. Do they have families? Do they also have children? What were the circumstances of their offense? I imagine that they are creepy-looking, oleaginous individuals who are very obviously troubled souls.
I’m probably wrong about that. Still, I wonder about those who have been marked as Dangerous Forever.
It’s not that I take child abuse, for example, lightly. But imagine if we were required to wear a t-shirt with “the worst thing we’ve ever done” on our chests:
- I kept porn on my work computer.
- I lied on my income tax forms.
- I sold coke to pay my way through college.
- I cheated on my spouse.
- I hit my child.
- I stole money from my parents.
- I was (and continue to be) a judging machine.
We who self-identify as followers of Jesus are ostensibly all about grace, but we have long memories too. We are in the forgiveness business, and yet we don’t easily forgive. When one of us is actually caught doing something hurtful – often devastatingly so – we are mortified. But, more often, we are simply not caught.
What if everybody knew us best for the worst thing we’ve ever done?
I write this because I struggle with forgiveness. I clearly remember the sexual misconduct pastors who have impacted my own life and faith and their names are filed in my head for future reference. I cling to the stories of people who’ve done me wrong.
Sometimes I do this out of fear. I’m afraid that if I don’t remember, it will happen again.
Sometimes I am concerned that authentic transformation has not occurred deep in the offender’s soul. [I remember forgiving an unfaithful boyfriend long ago and his response to my offering of grace? He laughed. Even he thought I was foolish to forgive him.]
We who know what it’s like to be released from our own chains are more willing and likely to release others. But repentance – that churchy word for turning from the darkness towards the light – is crucial. After someone has confessed and repented, there is still the matter of forgiving her/him. It’s not easy.
But I’m pretty sure that God will not remember us according to the worst things we’ve ever done. So there’s that. If God can forgive . . .
Image is a sculpture made from welded bicycle chains. Source here.