Are You There, God?
There is not much light that comes through the narrow slit the institution calls a window, but the slit is there nonetheless. In some ways it adds to the feeling of punishment because a road can be seen in the distance, cars going from someplace to somewhere.
The cell itself is certainly not luxurious in terms of space or furnishing, but it serves the purpose for which it was intended.
Somewhere on the unit vulgar words are exchanged between individuals, nothing new. The vulgar language never seems to let up, hanging among the walls like paintings might if decorations were considered an approved expenditure.
I am not describing any particular prison nor am I trying to set the stage for an attack of depression. Most of you live in conditions similar to what I describe, and I wanted you to know that I do try to envision where you are when I write to you.
At the same time, many of the letters I receive point out God's miracles and His presence are easier to see and experience from the comfort in which I live. The writers tell me that they pray, read the Bible, and attend chapel services, yet things don't get better – they get worse.
Legislation is passed almost weekly somewhere in the country which affects the future of a sex offender. Institutional treatment does not allow for the presence of God . . . God is considered a byproduct of denial in most programs.
Communities do not see an offender as needing rehabilitation as much as deserving commitment for life. In fact, some states have assigned a life sentence for the crime of child molestation. It comes as no surprise to me that many inmates fail to see God loving them. Most of those who cannot see God also believe that God has abandoned them, turned His back on them forever.
To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit. (Ps.28.1)
David also prayed I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him, since be delights in the Lord. (Ps.22.6-8)
Why is it that you and I see our lives as so much worse at times than David's life? Was he making something up when he wrote those words of anguish? Yet we view David as a man of God, faithful to the Lord despite his failings, and a model of the kind of relationship we seek with God in our lives.
Reverend Edward R. Sims wrote "It's a moral world God has made and He cannot abolish my past. But God will liberate me from the constraints of my past, from the confines of a self-image that is negative and limiting, from a crippling guilt or a suffocating personal tragedy. God will open for me a new future; I must choose to make that future different, and do the hard work that choice involves. God will be with me in the choice and in the contest that choice requires. That is the promise . . . not the magic of an instant paradise, but the grace of opportunity and the courage to live out my decision. God makes it possible; I make it happen." (Vintage Voice, December 1999)
The presence of God is not limited to chapels or churches or Bible studies. The presence of God is reality within the cell I described, not making it paradise . . . making it possible.
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Heb.13.5) What an incredible promise God gave us! Not one of us could ever say the same to another person for we would leave and forsake another and have already done so.
One man told me that people refuse to see the changes he has made in his life. He has not re-offended, maintains strict boundaries in where he goes, and is daily seeking the intimacy of the Lord in his life. Yet to the public, he is the same man as he was years ago when he molested a child. Their image of him chokes his spirit and strains his belief that God is bringing him to a better place. He does not give up on God, he merely cries out as David cried out, How long, O Lord?
If I call you a Doubting Thomas, you might remember the apostle Thomas saying Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and place my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it. (Jn.20.25) When Jesus appeared a second time and had Thomas do just that, Thomas replied My Lord and my God! (vs.28) He believed! And if he believed, why do we still refuse to see him in that new light? Why do we hold him to the darkness of his doubts?
Change is about making new choices, and if we are honest, those choices must be made regardless of how we are or are not seen by others. We should not reject the idea of abusing a child because the abuse will bring us back in prison. We reject abusing a child because of the harm that such abuse causes to a child, harm no child deserves.
Another man wrote "I can't stand being the way I am any more! I have to change!" His words are not just the cries of despair finally surfacing. I think they are words which come at the prompting of God, evidence of God's presence . . . not making it easier for the man . . . just God pointing out His heart's desire. And in that anguish, the man hears God and knows he is called to a better place.
They cried out to God in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. (Ps.107.6) God will do this for you and He will do it for me.
Bob Van Domelen is executive director of the ex-gay organization Broken Yoke Ministries, which offers assistance to recovering offenders.
© 2000 Bob Van Domelen