Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Forgive and Forget

Michael Vick pled guilty to a crime and is facing possible prison time. Michael Vick found God. Paris Hilton was found guilty, and was facing possible jail time. Paris Hilton found God. It is an extremely common phenomenon with criminal defendants.

Primarily desiring the lawyers, and the probation officers and the judges and the prosecutors and the guards to think that basically they are “good people.” That they are a God-fearing, religious, Bible-believing Christian that made a mistake. Not one of those non-believing heathens for whom crime is a daily consideration.

This was a one-time instance. A fluke. Something that should be treated as out-of-character. They have learned their lesson—yessiree! No jail is necessary here, thank you very much. Reserve that cell space for someone who really deserves it.

So they join the throng of what they perceive as “good people” and become one themselves. Over and over, I have heard criminal defendants (both my own, and others at sentencings I have sat through) explain how they are a Christian. How they go to Church. How they love God. How they have asked forgiveness of God.

Humorously, they are blissfully unaware of how common this is. To them, of course, this is the only crime they have been charged with. What they don’t realize is that countless persons before them, have told the same Judge, and the same Prosecutor, how they are a Christian. And this was just a mistake. After 20 people that day have all claimed to be Christians, have all been convicted or plead guilty to felonies, and have all been sentenced to prison—do you think it is helpful to proclaim to be part of that same group?

If we thought this was more than a “jailhouse conversion” we would be seriously concerned about the number of “Christians” that are committing crimes! We know better, of course.

Secondly, I think convicted persons, facing jail, turn to god in hopes of receiving a lesser sentence. It is obvious their attorney has done the best they can. Also obvious that human judge is probably going to place them in a cell—what option do they have, but to go over the Judge’s head? Since most of us do not know the President (*cough, cough, “Libby Scooter”*) the next best thing is to appeal to the Creator of the Universe.

If God is convinced of what a good person they are, maybe He will step in and “save the day” in some way. (Again, just as humorous. If we humans can perceive the basis of these conversions; I would think the Almighty would have at least an equal perception into the selfishness behind the thought.)

Yet I see very similar thinking from many Christians. While they may (rightfully) be criticizing the Vicks and Hiltons of the world, they suffer from the same thought. That because of some “in” with God, they are entitled to special treatment.

In the Baylor Religious Survey people were asked a number of words, and if those words described God, in a range from “not at all” to “very well.” When asked about the word “Forgiving” 74.2% of the people said that this described God “Very Well.”

However, when asked if “Just” described God, almost the same number (67.9%) equally said that described God “Very Well.”

So which is it? Is God “forgiving” or “just”? I think many would say both. (I certainly would have as a Christian.) But when asked about the word “Forgiving” most of us would have been thinking of ourselves. How God would (hopefully) overlook our human frailties. How God could understand our difficulties in not sinning, or doubting, or failing to maintain his Standard. And we would constantly ask forgiveness, relying upon a God that 3/4 of us feel “Forgiving” describes him very well.

However, turning to the word “Just” we stop thinking of ourselves, and envision how God treats others. Those that did not believe right, or act right, or harmed us, or caused pain in others, or committed crimes--those were the sort that God needed to exercise a firm hand. Those were the sort that 2/3 of us think “Just” is a very apt description of God.

Trot out “Adolf Hitler” and everybody wants to talk about a “Just” God. (How many times have we heard the platitude about Hitler not being in Heaven?) No one wants to hear about a Forgiving God when it comes to Hitler! Imagine the…well…injustice in that!

Yet when we look to our own lives, we start talking about being forgiven. Oh, we couch it in terms of “not deserving it” and “I am just as bad as everyone else” and “I am chief of sinners” but in the end, when we think of God, we think of a creature that has forgiven us. Granted us mercy.

If God is forgiving, can you live with the same God forgiving the spouse that abused you? Or does that person deserve the “Just God”? Can God forgive the person that hurt you terribly? Or is that unacceptable? Have you ever thought of how many people YOU have hurt (maybe even inadvertently) that are secretly hoping you come face-to-face with the “Just God”? Oh, I know that you think because you didn’t mean to, or because you sincerely asked that you will meet the “Forgiving God.”

So does Vick. And Hilton.

For all the Christian blogs and papers and conversations decrying Vick for finding God, and finding the “Forgiving” God, you might quietly remember that you are no different. Why should Vick be dealt the “Just God” and you get the “Forgiving One’?


  1. **However, turning to the word “Just” we stop thinking of ourselves, and envision how God treats others. **

    I think it would depend on how one views justice, though. If looking at it from the lens of equality, or liberating the oppressed, then I think it's a great way of picturing God. It just seems that Christianity focuses on the criminal-justice portion of justice, and there's a slew of meanings behind that word in the Bible. Because as another picture has been presented to me, God's justice requires faithfulness to the covenent, which in turn means that God's justice requires that forgiveness be granted.

    **Why should Vick be dealt the “Just God” and you get the “Forgiving One’?**

    You did touch on this, but for me, part of the decrying comes not from the different shades of God one might or might not encounter, but comes from how this encounter gets used. It's tiring to see how this gets played as a "get out of trouble" card, and that it happens only after the person is confronted with the consequences. Of course he's going to find it wrong now -- he has the whole world condemning him for his actions. The timing is too neat. I'm not sure the idea of "they didn't mean to" can be attached to their motives, because everything shows that they did mean to. There wasn't an inner sense of "this is wrong" driving his change, but the fact that the standards of the world are saying he was wrong. If no one had a problem with this, and it was a blurb in the newspaper, would he still have "found" God? However, for all I know, he could have sincerely desired forgiveness for this.

    It's just -- why couldn't he have this change of heart while in the middle of conducting one of the dog fights? It would just be nice to be able to greet stories like these with something other than cynicism.

  2. This was an interesting and solid analysis. Thanks for the reality check.

    I couldn't even find anything to disagree with!


  3. Dagoods,
    I think you have inadvertantly discovered a new way to get sinners into the kingdom-send em to jail.