Saturday, April 05, 2008

"Evil for Evil" inside Prison

I've blogged about this topic before. I almost can't make myself go into prison on the nights I'm scheduled to lead the lesson on Ro 12.17, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone." I have no right. I have no right to suggest to a group of men in prison that they follow Christ in never paying back evil for evil.

In my experience, this command barely makes a dent on the Christian's consciousness in the outside world. And if it does, it means that you don't say something nasty about your colleague at work just because he said something nasty about you.

In my life, I'm not really called to pay much of a price for actually believing this verse. The guys in prison, however, understand what Paul is asking. (And, yes, I do nuance the lesson -- it's not a lesson about pacificism. Nonetheless, the lesson has real bite in the prison context.)

At this point almost more than any other, it's all and only the cross. Jesus understands what it is not to return evil for evil. For myself, it's at that time more than any other that I would give anything to disappear entirely so that these men could receive encouragement and comfort directly from the Man who truly understands this lesson, and who carries the wounds to prove it. These men deserve no less. But instead they get me, and are kind enough not to point out how absurd it is that I introduce this topic to them.

The lesson flies directly in the teeth of the world as does no other. And it does no more so than in prison. You gotta return evil for evil in prison. You just gotta. In their situation, it's not enough to believe that Jesus blesses us when we suffer for righteousness' sake, you need to believe that Jesus blesses us when we suffer. There's a big difference.

The whole of our fallen nature rebels at this lesson. Nothing is more foolish to the world than this lesson. Understandably, the guys struggle with the implications of the lesson for the prison context. And I feel ashamed of myself, because they most likely have to bear the burden of the lesson in a way that I (Lord willing) will not. I have no right to bring this lesson to the men's attention; no right at all.

But I'm not ashamed of Jesus Christ, who does not ask anyone to bear a burden that he has not borne. So, God help me, the lesson stays in, and I go into prison the night the lesson is scheduled.


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