At one time I was active in jail ministry. On one occasion, while I was serving in that capacity, I talked with an inmate, a man in his young twenties, who had served his time and was about to be released. It was mid January and the rest of the world had just finished celebrating the Christmas and New Year holiday season. This man told me his story.
He said that when he was 13 years old, while he was walking along a street in Detroit, he was attacked by a gang of teenage boys. He did not know or recognize any of his attackers, but they beat him mercilessly. He was seriously injured by this attack and he spent several months in the hospital recuperating from his injuries. He said that experience affected him greatly throughout his teenage years. He could not understand why someone, who didn’t even know him, could be so cruel. He said, “They literally tried to beat me to death.” As a consequence of this experience, he became very rebellious throughout his teenage years. He eventually got involved with drugs and that was why he was in prison.
He said, “Through the counseling I received here in prison, I am better and feel that I can now deal with life, but I feel very alone and lonely. I come from a fairly large family. My mom and dad had seven children; and everyone has abandoned me. No one has ever written to me or come to visit me while I’ve been in prison, not even during the holiday season. I am about to be released and I have no family to return to. They have all disowned me. I guess I have been an embarrassment to them.”
One of the realities of prison ministry is, once the inmate has been released, you rarely get to hear the rest of the story. But this poor man was literally condemned by his family. I couldn’t help but think about him, and the many others like him I met in prison, as I read this single verse from the Gospel of John (3:17):
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
We all have a tendency to be very judgmental. But one of the most valuable lessons I have ever received in life, I heard from my instructor in my very first psychology class. He said, “Every obnoxious quality that you see in another human being is, in one way, shape or form, an expression of pain.”
If we could all only learn to love and learn to forgive, “seventy times seven times”, how different might our world be. If “God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son”, then we too need to learn to love all those who share this world with us. We need to look beyond the “obnoxious quality” and learn to love the person within. Our job in life is not to be self-righteous judges, but rather to be loving sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.