Psalm 107:10-11 – Everyone’s innocent in prison. Just ask them.
In Psalm 107:1-2, 8, 15, 31 and 43, God makes it clear that His number one driving motive behind allowing some of us to experience certain trials and tribulations is His saving love. He loves us enough to allow us to be hurt in the short-term if it leads to our salvation in the long run. That's the number one reason why God allows some to go to prison: He loves them.
In commenting on John 11–the temporary death of Lazarus and the suffering of his friends and family who wanted him to live–Herman Ridderbos says, “At stake in the encounter with Jesus” is not that what we get what we want, or that we get to pick and choose what we want to know about Him, but that we know Him as He has revealed Himself to us in the Scripture. The next time you're counseling someone facing criminal charges, someone incarcerated, one who has been released, or their families, and they ask, “Why?” tell them, “Because God loves you,” and then take them through this passage. Remember, at stake in your encounter with those you counsel is not that they are made to feel better or live better, but that they know Christ. Let's continue our study of Psalm 107.
“10Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, 11for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.”
Second only to God's saving love, the next reason people are in trouble is they've rebelled. It never ceases to amaze me how many men insist they are innocent of the charges against them because of some technicality or another. They won't dispute they did the crime; they maintain their innocence because of some infraction of their rights by the arresting officer(s) or the prosecution or their own defense attorney. A few will say they are innocent because they are the victim of mistaken identity. The Scripture paints a very different view. It says that people are in prison because they rebelled against God. There is no one innocent. Not one. They have all turned astray; each one has gone after their own way. None of them ever sought after God, until He came looking for them (Romans 3:10-12; Genesis 3:9). But even with such clear passages as these, you may still need to flesh that out a bit? (TIP: Much of what follows is written as if I am addressing the offender directly.)
FIRST: You rebelled against God's grace. How has God loved you, you ask with Israel (Malachi 1:2-5)? Well, you could be dead. How many do you know know that have died doing the same stuff you did? How many do you know that received significantly longer sentences for the same crime you did? How many times can you think of that God called out to you and you rebelled?
SECOND: You rebelled against the evidence of God in creation. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 make it clear that the creation holds enough evidence pointing to the Creator so that men are without excuse. How many times did your body tell you to stop drinking or using drugs with your face in the toilet, infections from needles, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, etc. (Personally, as I am now realizing the consequences of the sinful eating habits I ignored for far too long, I always ask, “At what point should I have realized that a large pan pizza from Pizza Hut was never intended to be a single-serving item, chased by a half gallon of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream?”)
THIRD: They rebelled against the evidence of God in their conscience, which accused or excused their actions all the time (Romans 2:12-16). Do you remember hearing a “still small voice” telling you to do or NOT to do this or that but you did it anyway? The Scripture calls that your conscience, the law of God written on your heart. Jay E. Adams compared it to the warning light on the dashboard of a car. What should you do when it comes on? What did you do? How many times did you do what you specifically knew to be wrong?
FOURTH: They rebelled against those who spoke God's Word to them (Jeremiah 25:3-7). Believer or unbeliever, God used asses of every shape and size to speak His Word to you, and yet you rebelled. Parents, siblings, teachers, pastors, counselors, etc., God sent His Word telling you what you should or should not do and yet you did what you wanted. No one was going to tell you what to do. You had no king; no one was going to be the boss of you. You did what was right in your own eyes (Judges 17:6).
So, in summary, you really are guilty. You may be innocent by a technicality or even mistaken identity, but you are guilty of sinning against God, rebelling against His Word and despising His counsel. Guilty as charged. Guilty on all counts.
To the counselor: At a recent conference I attended with Paul Tripp called “Dangerous Calling,” Paul said the best sermons are preached by the ones who are worshipping as they are preaching. They are preached by those who know that they are as much in need of the savior as those to whom they are preaching. The same is true for counselors.
A Word of Explanation:
I am the director of Hope Prison Outreach, a division of the Association of Biblical Counselors. As such, everything I write will be directed to those facing criminal charges, already incarcerated, recently released and/or their families. But every time I do so, I must resist the urge to try to make what I am saying all inclusive–that though I write about a specific audience it applies generally to all. Dr. Jay E. Adams' exposition of Scripture in his writing changed my life forever. And if there's one thing I learned from the Word through his writing, it's that there is no such thing as special cases. God allows no one to plead that their situation is unique or, more particularly, that God's Word is not applicable to their situation. For this reason, I pray that what I write will be read by more than those who are only interested in counseling those about whom I write. And I pray that you'll let me know if something in particular I've said has gripped you.
Posted on January 30, 2014