I used to correspond through the mail with an inmate named Lowell. I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a more biblically literate person. Perhaps this was because he had come to know his desperate need for God and was given plenty of time to find him in solitary confinement. As a former member of a white supremacist prison gang, he had been placed in solitary for violent acts (I don’t know what) against blacks in the prison. Of course this was just the last in a long list of crimes committed by this relatively young man.
As his story unfolded through our year or so of correspondence, the most shocking revelation dawned on me – Lowell and I were not all that different. Had I encountered the same life circumstances which he had, I probably would have ended up in the same place. My heart reflected the selfishness, malice, and prejudice which landed Lowell in solitary. Conversely, he demonstrated genuine remorse and a desire for redemption. The last vestiges of my childish notion that humanity can be divided into “good guys” and “bad guys” melted as I figuratively gazed into the mirror of Lowell’s heart.
As a human being at the bottom of society’s dumpster, Lowell sits upon an anthropological dilemma. Should Lowell not have to “pay” for what he did? If so, who determines when the debt is paid? If not, what of his victims? During our correspondence, Lowell petitioned to be released from solitary after he had spent a year there. He was denied. The prospect of another year cut off from human contact in the name of justice nearly destroyed this man who had made so many positive changes.
So, how can we maintain the worth of an individual yet decry his evil deeds? Is such a thing even possible? The answer is yes and no. Humans will never solve this dilemma because we are incapable of separating the essence of a person from their behavior. We will never have instrumentation that precise. God, however, does have an implement which can do the job. The cross of Christ in one moment categorically condemns human evil (including mine and Lowell’s) and unequivocally declares human worth. From the cross, God in voice clear and loud declares, “I hate your murder, theft, prejudice, selfishness, and lust and I love you more than words can say.”
Lowell is probably still in prison but Lowell has found a freedom while incarcerated that he never had before. Lowell continues to suffer the consequences of his past actions but he is not defined by them. God’s scalpel, the cross has removed the sin which was entangled around the heart of a man created after the divine image. Praise God for the wonderful, horrible, crucial cross!