I’m typing this from the middle of a prison classroom. All the students were called back to their cells for some kind of count, so I’m sitting here passing the time until they’re able to come back.
For the most part, prisons are a gross waste of humanity. I know that it’s popular to be all “law and order-- you do the crime, you do the time.” It seems sometimes like that’s the only thing that all the political parties agree about. But I spend about 80 hours a year right now teaching prisoners, and I see that they have so much potential.
Yes, they’ve made some bad choices. Most of the guys I’m teaching right now are in for murder, actually (shh... don’t tell my mom). They’ve taken human life in a way that’s not justified. The victims of their crimes probably believe that they will not be in here long enough.
But these men have minds. They have souls. They have a creative spirit that longs for freedom in the same way that yours or mine does. They can be kind. They have unique and individual personality, hopes, dreams, and needs.
What does it mean to love these men the way that Christ would? What does it mean to walk with them in this world, or to visit them in prison the way that Jesus talked about them in Matthew 25?
The gospel is that not even murder can separate us from the love of Christ. The gospel story is that, in that mysterious, cosmic way, Jesus took the penalty that these men deserve for their absolute violation of morality and human value.
The government still has to figure out what to do with them, how to maintain order, how to protect future victims from coming to harm in the same way. I get that. But the truth of the gospel frees me up to treat them with dignity and respect and with the love of Christ.
If God has already judged their conduct and offered up his own son to pay whatever penalty, then who am I to condemn them? Who am I to look at them and say they have no value or worth in this world?
When I treat them like they’re valuable human beings instead of some thrown-away prisoner-number, I think that has the power to transform. That’s the power of the gospel, in living, breathing form, and it has the power to soften and to heal and to spark a desire for good and for positive change. And for God. What God can do with that, maybe I’ll never know. But I trust that he’s able to work through it and in it. And I’m trusting that he is.