Sin is cyclic…
Last night a group of five of us gave a first-time chapel service to about 50 juvenile sex offenders. They were a crew of 14 to 19 year olds from all over the East Coast who had been charged with a serious sex crime.
For teens, a “serious sex crime” is often limited to:
sexual assault of a child or minor, and
I was given the opportunity to share with them for about 15 minutes. And although I knew going into this chapel service that I was going to be the main speaker, I didn’t want to prepare a message full of statements. Being that it was a smaller group that could respond to me while I spoke, I instead prepared a message full of questions.
The first question I asked was this: “How many of you have been seriously hurt by others in your lives?” They all raised their hands.
The assumption with children and teenagers … especially these kids … is that they were first victims. Victims who became victimizers. Most of us follow the same process. When we are hurt, we react in retaliation.
Then I asked them, “How many of you have wanted to hurt others in the same way that you’ve been hurt?” Same response. Some of them blurted out, “I want to hurt them worse.”
Most of us react proportionally to the seriousness of our pain. If someone cuts us off while we’re driving, we might flip a finger, or shout something out. On a more serious level, if somebody abuses us physically we may try to abuse others or, possibly, abuse ourselves through substances.
The sad thing for these kids that we visited last night was that many of them were in juvie for the sins of somebody else. Yes, they’re still guilty of their crimes, but they were first victims.
They had been raped.
They had been sexually molested.
They had been sexual assaulted.
They had been the victim of a crime they didn’t have the power to stop. They had been overpowered and exploited.
As I was closing, I asked them, “If you had the power to hurt those who hurt you, what would you do?”
They all replied they’d inflict all the pain they could. And their story is the story of the world. A story of abuse, exploitation, reaction and retaliation. A story of war, of hatred, of tribalism, of divorce of revenge. Speaking to these 50 juvenile sex offenders, I was speaking to the story of humanity.
A story that has been slowly changing towards redemption through the introduction of a new narrative.
Jesus came to this earth with all the potential power that He wanted. He healed the sick, raised the death, touched the untouchable and healed the souls of the broken. He never used His might for evil. Even His enemies said He was innocent. Yet, He was outcast, beaten, spit on, possibly raped (if was acceptable for soldiers to rape criminals) and eventually killed at the request of those he loved.
He could of … maybe even should have … destroyed His enemies … He had the power to, but He didn’t. I explained to them that the only innocent person who EVER walked the earth was abused to the point of death, but instead of reacting in retaliation, He forgave and redeemed.
These kids where fixated on the message. It wasn’t my message; it was a new perspective, a new story, a different option that began to melt the coldness of their hearts, just like it has millions of others throughout history, including my own.
Sin is cyclic … but so is love. With one act of grace, a new narrative has been born … again and again.
In 3:37 of Imitation Thomas a Kempis mentions a paradox that has often challenged me in regard to the idea of depravity.
Kempis, personifying God’s voice, writes, “In all things I would find you naked and poor, and bereft of your own will. How can you be Mine, and I yours, unless you are clearly deprived of your own will within and without? (124). This seems pretty clear. God, according to Kempis, wants us deprived of our self volition.
Kempis continues God’s voice, “And the sooner you can bring this about, the sooner will it be better for you, and the more fully and clearly you can do it, the more fully you will please Me and the more will you win” (126). God wants us to give Him our will … to will Him our self will.
The next paragraph, Kempis, again personifying God, writes, “such persons will never come to perfect cleanness and freedom of heart, or to the grace of familiarity with Me, save through a complete, perfect forsaking of themselves and a daily offering of themselves and all that is theirs completely to Me.” (124). It would seem that Kempis is implying that God gives freedom to those who surrender their will.
Sin and self-centeredness have the ability to create volitional bondage, although I don’t know if it every produces inability, it seems to at least produce an incredible lack of ability. The paradox is that which Kempis highlights: self-willed bondage must be replaced by a bondage to God. A bondage whereby we will our will to God.
It is in that act of willing, the practice of our volition to something outside ourselves (God is enough to inspire us OUT of ourselves and INTO Him), that we begin to learn discipline of the will and so find “perfect cleanness and freedom of heart.”
When we learn to discipline the will to God we find freedom of the will.