Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Radical Forgiveness, Scandalous Grace

Often, when we think of the forgiveness that we are supposed to have as Christians, we think of how we are to react to the guy that cuts us off on the freeway, or the coworker that says something negative behind our back. Are those good examples of the kind of radical forgiveness that Jesus lived and espoused? Or should we be looking for something more... severe?

This news story caught my eye a few months back. Years ago, Raymond Guay abducted and killed a 12-year old boy. Recently, he was paroled from prison. By order of the judge, he had to remain in New Hampshire to serve his three-year parole.

It will come as no shock to most of us that the tiny, peaceful, rural community of Chichester didn't want him living there.

But that didn't stop a local pastor -- David Pinckney -- from taking him in, to live with his family.

The town didn't like that one bit. Hundreds of people gathered in a town meeting to ask Guay to go live somewhere else.
    But now many locals feel like prisoners in their own homes. Smith said he will not allow his 11-year-old daughter to feed her pony, Wilma, alone anymore. Ingram, who lives near Pinckney, has blocked her back deck with the family's gas grill, a barrier to make sure the children do not go wandering.

    "To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't want Mr. Guay to be living in my town," said the county sheriff. "I'm a parent, too."

    "We were warned," said Pinckney, who has four children, ages 13 to 18, living at home and a fifth, age 19, away at school. "It was said this could disrupt life. People wouldn't like it. He's not liked. But at the end of the day, this is what Jesus did. He defended the defenseless. He was a friend of sinners."
In case you missed that, yes, Pinckney has four children living at home. The youngest is close to the same age as the boy that, 25 years ago, was shot in the head and found a month later, dead in the woods, wearing nothing but his socks, underwear, and eyeglasses.


In the conversations we had about this story, the common theme seemed to be something like, "Sure, that's cool that he did that. But geez, I've got young kids. I don't think I'd trust a guy like that around MY kids."

The story of the killing is, indeed, tragic. The final paragraph of the news story is a quote from the mother of the boy that was killed by Mr. Guay.
    "The worst part is the winters, when the wind is howling outside and you're curled up in bed, nice and cozy," she said. "That's when I think about my poor little son out there in the freezing cold in his underpants. Can you imagine?"
No, I can't imagine. I hesitate to even think about it. Is this really the kind of man Jesus wants us to love and forgive?

Would YOU take him into your home?


Redacticus said...

Thinkest thou to stump thy fellowmen? The illustrious Redacticus doth wonder what thou hast been smoking up there in the scriptorium, thou gentle monks!

Scott said...

I had a friend that, in the middle of a conversation about heaven and God's grace, once said to me:

"You mean heaven might be filled with murderers and child molesters that found God? Well if that's the case, I don't want any part of it."

Hmm. I think a lot of people might react that way.

I wonder how we would have reacted to Saul, the Christian-hunter, after his supposed "conversion." Would we have let him into our homes?

I got some answers on Facebook but I'm still waiting for some answers here. :-)

Joe B said...

In the first three centuries a majority of converts to Christ came from pagan traditions in which "sacred prostitution" was an honored tradition. Human sacrifice was rare by this time, but it was still common for people to "devote" (sell) their spare children & orphans to the temple priests who did a booming trade in prostitution. What a delightful mix, that they could do their religious duty by doing underage booty, right there at "church". Hmmmm.

These "temple kids" no doubt lived short, brutal lives, grist for the mill of pagan religion which had nothing to appease Death except for life itself. These kids were “living sacrifices” in a true and grisly sense.

Anyway, the point is, scads of these earliest converts were guilty of the blood of these children whose bodies were bought and abused "legitimately." These converts had never had to murder the children to cover up their crimes, because their crimes were not only legal, but socially admirable. Then they came to God through obedient faith in Jesus. Child molesters, idolaters, worshipers of demons.

And such were some of you.

I feel a new post coming on, but not until you cowards out there come and comment on this one. Do you feel challenged yet?

Anonymous said...

Bob Lenn at 9:45am July 2
Well, Scott, I'd have to certainly think deep and hard about this one. In the mean time, would you and Mary expose your children to this perp's past behaviorial pattern? (Woops, did I just judge the perp?) I'm especially interested in Mary's reaction to your query. Let's see, Jesus loves the sinner, but hates the sin. Jesus is God - I'm just another forgiven sinner, who is also a fallable human being. Think I'll just leave it all up to Him to forgive.

Garry said...

Scott, you got me, I read the title and the story and figured Joe had done it again. Only after I looked twice did I see your name at the end. Good post and good question.
This is almost identical to the hypothetical question of John/Joan only this one has real names and places.
It would be very difficult to be in the situation these folks are in. If he weren't a 'kid killer' it may be somewhat easier to accept him. If he had been an model prisioner, we might accept him. But he is and he wasn't, so where do we go from here?
We all tend to consider the 'degree' of sin that has been committed and assign forgiveability to it. I do it and know that it is not really how it should be.
In America, we have the judicial system to judge the criminal and set the punishment according to law and the Constitution. When a theif is released, he is a free man, with a record. When a killer is set free, he is a free man with a record. Neither of these are required to register anywhere with anybody about their past behavior. Involve a child however, and it is a different story. Right or wrong, it is different. That man has a stain that we can't ignore or forgive.
It is still a question of 'what do we really believe?' Is God big enough to reach down and save this scoundrel? Does He love enough to save him too?
If we say that the power of God can and does change lives, (I know that is true because of what He did for me), our answer becomes very simple. We accept the man as he is. That is how God accepted me and you. If we don't, then what does that say about our faith and God?
Whether it is John/Joan or Mr. Guay or whoever, we are not the one to decide who Christ died for or who is worthy of His Grace. That decision has already been made, "For whosoever ..." and that means me also.
For the record, I'm no saint, I probably won't be inviting any one in Mr. Guay's situation into my home either.
I have much work to do.

Joe B said...

All that being said...no I certainly would not. I could get very creative and resourceful helping the guy find his own place, but I'd go broke in that effort before I would invite him home for lunch with my kids. I can truly have compassion on the man, but that doesn't mean baiting the hook of grace with my children's lives.

This sort of psycho-rapist-killer sin is something apart form mere sexual proclivity or past sexual misbehavior. This is about a person driven to madness by his desires, and who is willing to die and kill for his fix of gratification. It's like a shark--you don't have to hate the fish, but you sure as heck don't fling it into the wading pool wiith your kids.

Craig said...

Challenging post, Scott.

The question at the bottom of it, at least as I see it, relates to the nature of grace and forgiveness, and the degree to which human grace/forgiveness, expressed in real-world society, can reflect God's. Or even ought to.

If I can put it in overly-crass terms, fitness for Heaven is one thing; fitness for human society is related, but not identical. . .

The thing that would give me pause is the volume of evidence that these guys never really 'get over' their predilection for preying on kids. I've actually known a child-molester or two in my life (altho, mercifully, no child-killers), and even when their lives were going well, and to all appearances, their 'troubles' were behind them, it was a constant internal moral struggle, and one which, eventually, they virtually couldn't help themselves from doing again. . .

I can have the utmost compassion for such a person; the burden of guilt can be awful (or not; denial is also a powerful psychological dynamic). But even so, I don't think I'd want him living next door to my kids.

Scott said...

Over the weekend I was discussing some of this with my extended family, and my Mom mentioned how someone in their church is a great Christian guy that, because of some history, can have no contact with kids under 16. So at small group, one family brought their kids once, and he had to quietly ask another guy to take him home.

So yes, there is love and forgiveness, and there is also common sense and societal consequences. Those need to be approached with love and grace, however, rather than making the guy a social pariah.

From what I've read about the particular story I linked to is that the guy was involved in a prison ministry, and the guy he had been working with sort of gave a "recommendation" to the pastor that took him in. So there was at least some prior connection, he wasn't just taking some random stranger that he knew nothing about into his home. Not that it would be an easy thing to do, regardless.

Regarding Bob's question, "would you and Mary expose your children to this perp's past behavioral pattern?"

I would say that I couldn't make a blanket statement for every situation. It would help some to know the guy or to know people he's worked with. It might also help to have kids that are much older. Ideally, yeah, I'd want to help him and love him. Realistically, no, I wouldn't volunteer our home for him. It's not that I couldn't FORGIVE him, it's more a watching-out-for-my-family thing.

As Joe said, there are probably other ways to help someone, in most cases. In this case, something extreme was needed, and I greatly respect (and I'm in awe of) the pastor's family that took him in.

The application here is that we know we are to be people of forgiveness, but we often think it's just the little stuff. And we think forgiveness is just a mind-thing -- I forgive you, blah blah blah, but I sure don't want to help you or worship next to you.

Anonymous said...

The "child molester" is a great device to use for a "worst case scenario". It's like saying "Adolph Hitler"; it's the rhetorical atomic bomb.

It's like the "villain figure" in a Stephen Segall movie...somebody you can feel good about hurting, or killing. How convenient.

God knows both the hearts of both the convict and the judge.

Anonymous said...

This to me is kind of like the forgiveness vs. trust thing. I know God can forgive him and maybe even I could. However, that does not mean I have to put my family in potential danger to prove that point.

Eutychus said...

Okay, how about this? Jesus knew Judas was a bad apple but trusted him anyway.

Is that relevant?

Deborah said...

I doubt anyone will see this at this late date, but I'm going to toss in my two cents.

God doesn't rate sin - all sin is equally abhorrent in the eyes of the Lord. Only people rate sin. Clearly, in most societies, murder has always been The Biggie. (Although an amazing amount of people are okay with legalized murder - aka the Death Penalty.)

Rape hasn't always been so high up on the list. Up until the 1970's, SOP for defense attorneys was to try to make it look like the victim was asking for it. And rape sentences were pretty mild (unless, of course, the accused was a black man and the victim was a white woman - now you're moving back into Death Penalty territory - especially if you're in Texas). In many states rape sentences are still rather short - convicted drug dealers usually get much more time. Especially if they're black.

Child molestation of any sort is rather high up there. Go to prison for that, and you're probably looking at protective custody because even the "scum of society" will not tolerate that sort of behavior. There WILL be repercussions - and usually of the kind that most parents of the victims would applaud.

There's a pattern here, and it's always the same, down through the ages and across societies and cultures.

The value of sin is constantly changing because people are constantly changing. There will also always be a caste system, too - different sets of rules and penalties for different levels of the caste. Given the rather subjective nature of human beings, we are not in a good position to be evaluating sin. Of course, that's not the ONLY reason we're not in a good position to evaluate sin, but it provides the most concrete evidence.

I certainly hope heaven is filled with child molesters and murderers who found God. If it's not, then I won't be allowed in either, despite my being classified as a law-abiding citizen by my peers. My keeping the law (or NOT, for that matter)is entirely irrelevant. That's only good for my time here on Earth. Eternity is a whole 'nother ball game.

Jesus didn't die just for the "little" lies we tell, for the "small" things we might steal, for the oaths or the coveting. Because all of that "nickle-and-dime" sinning is just as abhorrent to Him as the murders and the molestations. To God, lying is as big a blemish as murdering. Or, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, "A murder is a lie is a fornication."

God doesn't assign a value to sin. Only people do.

Would I have the courage to invite a convicted child molester to live here in my home with my seven-year-old daughter? Not a chance. God entrusted me with the care and safety of this precious treasure - I'm not risking her well-being for someone I don't even know - whether he's a convicted child molester or a priest (which are not even mutually exclusive anymore). It's. Not. Going. To happen.

But would I have the courage to extend my hand in friendship? To believe it's my duty to act as Jesus would? To try to help this man find his way - God's Way? Absolutely. That's my duty as a Christian. To spurn this man would be a sin.

And then I'd be just as covered in sin as he is. But... oh, wait. I'm already neck-deep in that $#!&.

Thank God for Jesus... I'll take my place in heaven sandwiched between child molesters and rapists - and I'll be grateful.

Thank you for a platform to get something off my chest that has been there for many years.

Scott said...

Hi Deborah. We'll see them, some of us get comments sent to our email.

Thanks for your thoughts! I do agree that God doesn't necessarily 'rate' sin, but I don't think he sees a problem with human consequences varying for that sin, either. He meted out different punishments, especially in O.T. times, for different types of sin. Justice is a natural law ingrained in all of us, I suppose.

That being said, yeah, we're all sinners, and as Paul said, "I am the worst." I loved this line that you wrote: Thank God for Jesus... I'll take my place in heaven sandwiched between child molesters and rapists - and I'll be grateful.