A large, black, sweet ex-con has been returned to prison, and is back in the Friday night group. "I did pretty well for about ten months, but then I just started selling those narcotics again, and here I am back again." I told my old friend I was glad to see him again, but not there. "You're hurting people by selling that stuff, you know that don't you?" Yeah, he knows. How hard it is to find a new way when you're black and poor and the old ways have worked, financially speaking, in the past.
Last Friday, we started a scriptural word study on forgiveness. I'm not sure that's the best way to go about it, but they asked to do thematic studies rather than just reading consecutively through books of the Bible, which we'd been doing for years.
I realized once we got started I needed to back up though, and talk about the doctrine of sin. We found ourselves puzzling our way through the latter parts of Romans 7, and it was helpful! Then, back into the OT to discover what it has to say about forgiveness. Interestingly, the overwhelming number of passages regarding "forgive others" are NT. In the old testament, the writers are begging God for forgiveness. As Daniel said in his prayer, "not because of our righteousness, but because of your mercy."
Anyway. One of the guys started talking: "When I was doing heroin, I tried to hide the fact from God. Heroin was all I wanted to do; it consumed my every thought. God didn't look all that attractive to me. I was hiding from God. At some point, I finally got around to telling God, in prayer, that what I really, really wanted was more junk, to get high. It seemed when I finally honestly just told him that, then He started to answer my prayers."
I thought that was marvelous. I kept coming back to this with the others at the Bible study: his honest confession removed the obstacles to the Holy Spirit: heaven opened and he found help; he was delivered from his bondage to this terrible drug.. And then, later, we ran across this about forgiveness:
"I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
I had the man who had struggled with heroin addiction read this passage aloud, and bam. It really seemed to hit home. We then went on to talk about the relationship between confession and forgiveness, which I harp on all the time anyway. A few things are starting to gel, perhaps.
These guys keep running into one another. It is like a brotherhood of the jailed. Most have been serial offenders, and have been in Bible studies together in various institutions around the state. I have always suspected that for some of them, it is easier to be in than out. Three squares a day, a warm and safe bed, and they have friends in there. Many of them, at this level, are working on the outside during the day: menial jobs, assembly line jobs; one guy's job is to drive them to their workplaces and pick them up again.. And they run into familiar cons and ex-cons at their workplaces as well.
For others, time hangs heavy and they can't wait to be released. These are the ones with families awaiting their return.