I believe in the inherent goodness of all life?from the shark that empties beaches when it comes too close to shore, to the shark that stands on street corners selling drugs to those who crave them.
Not that I care to meet up with either kind of shark. I?m not a Pollyanna: I have my eyes wide open to danger. I?ve seen enough of the darker side of life. But as a pastor, I believe that God may use me to shine some light on darkness.
I believe in nurturing the inherent goodness in people?even in the worst of people. If I didn?t believe in the goodness of all life, I would end up in despair. Because I recognize the brokenness of my own life, I can only have sympathy for the brokenness of others.
I believe our good God does not give up on anyone. So I can?t give up on them either. After all, God made them. So, I must try to see the goodness in everyone and everything, and work to bring out that goodness.
So when I go to a local prison to lead worship for men in maximum security, I try to carry the light. While most have a long way to go to get out of prison, I find them hungry to get out of the abyss of their darkness. They struggle with what the Bible tells them about their lives. I could point them to passages that tell them of the darkness of the human heart, but instead I try to help them find the light, the goodness they carry inside them, and show them what it means to them that God doesn?t give up on them.
During one visit, when I invited the men to offer prayers, several of them, as they often do, prayed for families and forgiveness. Then one man, a new inmate who didn?t want to be left out, stumbled through the only prayer he could think of: the Lord?s prayer. The rest of us kept silent, offering the same prayer in our hearts.
After the men left the tiny room where we hold our services, our volunteer organist told me that this man had brutally murdered a neighbor. I think that he, like the rest of the men who come to the service, cling to God?s words of light and compassion. They want to believe in a God who does not give up on them.
So I tell them about our God who hasn?t given up on them. We give up when we incarcerate rather than rehabilitate. We see only their crimes and not their inherent goodness. But you need only go to the prison with me to see that more than criminals, they are lonely, frightened, guilt-laden children of God. You can only love them.
And about those sharks in the ocean that curdle our blood when they show their teeth, you can appreciate their goodness?from a safe distance.
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