A burden that has been particularly on my heart lately is how to cultivate compassion for those who have committed heinous crimes against humanity. I work with a population where many individuals have done some of the worst things you or I could imagine. They are sick with a mental illness. Some are straight up psychopaths. Many have been blowing their brains out with drugs since they were in middle school. Many have suffered physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. Many have had numerous attempts at suicide. There is this vast cage of brokenness and dark energy that one can easily notice and deeply feel when immersed in this environment for forty hours a week. As a sensitive person, I do feel quite easily and I do have a heart of compassion for them as God has called me to do this kind of work for a long time. But not as much as I had once thought…
The other day, God was clearly calling me to pray for them. I was praying for myself, friends, and family, but skipping those that I see and live to help rehabilitate every five days out of the week. After much wrestling, I found myself lifting them up to God. That He would make himself bigger than their mental illness. That tortured minds would be comforted. That they may experience reconciliation with their victims and families. That they may heal from the crimes and trauma that have been afflicted upon them. That God would make himself known in the darkness. I asked God that within these prayers that I would gain a much deeper, empathetic, compassionate perspective toward these souls.
Today in church we went through the first part of Chapter 22 of Acts, when Paul shares his testimony in front of the Jewish people. He was not only a rebel to Jesus’s teachings, but a terrorist. He killed followers of Jesus. He committed hate crimes and was eager to do so. God did not only forgive Him. He chose Him to lead His people. The pastor mentioned how Christians who store all their worth and salvation in following the law, despise people like Paul. Why did God redeem this wretched man to do His good work?
The Gospel, however, is unlike the law. When we put our worth and salvation in the Gospel, we come to see that we are all wretched. I am not a terrorist, a rapist, or a criminal by any legal perspective. But I am a criminal in the eyes of God. I have rebelled against Him and gone my own way countless times. I am only saved because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for my sin. He has made me clean.
This is how I find the confidence to pray for those I see every day. It is easy to save our empathy for someone else instead of those who have committed senseless crimes. We feel as though they should “get what they deserve”. But I tell you, Paul (Saul) would have been there right along with them. In fact, the DSM-V probably would have diagnosed him with a variety of mental illnesses ;). And that’s the person that God chose to carry out His good works and lead His people.
For this, I have so much hope. The law alone gives me anxiety and despair. The Gospel gives me hope. For those who feel like they are never good enough. For those dwelling in the trenches of addiction, rebellion, and sin. God chooses you to be His followers. He doesn’t love you any less. He enjoys pouring His grace out upon you. It isn’t work for Him. It is pure love. As I reflect on this week and the story of Paul’s transformation, I see how the Gospel is much more radical and reckless than I could ever begin to imagine. I pray I do not withhold my compassion from any human I may encounter. More than that, I pray that I cultivate a deeper compassion. Where I do not look at someone for what they have done, but their identity due to the work Jesus has done. At the end of the day, I praise God for loving us no more than the other. I praise Him for endless, crazy grace. His love is infinite. His love is everything. His love saves us all from all of our crimes.