I walk the long hallway lined with prison cells. Inmates stare at me as I am pushed toward my own holding tank.
“Get in there you worthless piece of scum!” my prison ward says shoving me behind bars. “You’ll never amount to anything. You are just a sinner full of sin. The safest thing for you is to stay behind these walls and remember your wrongs!”
I hang my head in shame, knowing the guard is right. I don’t deserve to be let outside these bars. I don’t deserve to live outside of my shame.
The jail door slames behind me and I hear the guard slink off, murmuring comments of accusation at random prisoners on his way out.
“So, why are you here?” someone asks.
I turn to see a group of people huddling in the corner. Some in the group are older some are younger and there are both male and female.
“I did something wrong. I messed up,” I say in almost a whisper. “I feel so ashamed of it. I hung out with the wrong crowd. I . . .” my voice trails off.
“Go on, tell us,” an older gentleman encourages. “We are all in the same boat.”
“Well, I stole some Gatorade from a gas station.”
“A Gatorade? For real? Dang, I would’ve gone for at least a Coke.”
“I know and I got caught! I am so embarrassed! So full of sin! So evil!”
I sulk in my sorrows for a moment. I finally look up out of my self-hatred at the group in my cell. I realize I haven’t asked them why they are in jail – I could be in a cell with a bunch of murderers!!!
“So, ah,” I start to say, wringing my hands and trying to sound nonchalant. “What put you guys behind these bars?”
The older man clears his throat. “Well, we actually are a family. This is my wife and kids.”
“Oh okay.” I try not to sound nervous. They are all related? That sounds like I am a little out numbered if they try to do something.
“We all had a really good friend that we loved. We had a great relationship with him when suddenly he died. It threw my whole family into a downward spiral. Our lives seemed to fall apart. We started having feelings of bitterness and started questioning if God was good. Anyway, we felt so bad that we turned ourselves into the police. They immediately locked us away until we could bury our pain.”
Suddenly a door opens and the prison guard appears again in the hall.
“We just want to remind you, you dirty no good criminals, that if you keep repenting of your evil deeds you might just have hope after you die. Unfortunately you are too far gone to help right now. Some of you will always be too dangerous to let out of these cells to the public. So keep repenting. Keep being depressed. Keep living in mourning. Nothing will ever change but your sadness might give you a better life after you die.”
Then the guard came close to my cell. He looked past me and focused on the family huddled together.
The guard whispered at them. “We all understand your pain. We know it’s hard when you find out God isn’t as good as you thought. Keep asking questions. Keep questioning God because I would like to know what He says. Maybe if you get an answer you’ll be at peace.”
The guard seems so concerned about the family. I really can’t believe how helpful he is being.
“What about me, do you have advice for me?” I ask.
“You? Just keep feeling like a worm.”
And with that the guard leaves. I find a little bench against the wall and take a seat. The family in my cell look even more depressed. Wow, this is my new life in jail. It’s not exactly what I thought it would be but then again I deserve this.
The door out in the hall opens again. I assume it is just the guard again but this time there aren’t any long accusations. I decide to get up and look into the hallway. That’s when I see a man stopping at each cell, talking intently with the people inside.
“Hey, who is this guy?” I ask the family. They shrug their shoulders.
I watch as the man comes closer and closer to my cell. Who is he and what is he saying to everyone? Suddenly I don’t have to wonder anymore – the man appears in front of me and says my name.
“How do you know my name?”
“I knew you before you were born, why are you here behind bars?”
Well darn it. This must be Jesus, and he is seeing me at my worst! Why couldn’t he have come when I was at church last week? “If you know my name you must also know what I have done.”
“Yes, I know what you did but why are you behind bars? Didn’t you ask me for forgiveness?”
I nod, not sure how that helps.
Jesus then focuses on the family behind me. He has such love and compassion in his eyes. I can tell he loves this family and me very deeply.
“How long are you planning on staying in the prison of doubt?” he asks them.
“Lord, you failed us.”
“Only the enemy fails people and brings destruction. I can only bring good. Do you believe I am a good God?”
“Well, yes, but we need to know why you let this happen to us.”
“Is it the prison guard that keeps reminding you to ask why? He wasn’t the one who lost a friend.” Jesus pauses for a second. “Do you believe I am a good God?”
The family is quiet for a moment. Then the old man slowly replies, “Yes, you are a good God.”
“Then it is time you let that belief become more powerful than the questions and the circumstances. Life is too short to waste it inside a prison cell. Your destiny awaits outside, my dear children!”
Jesus turns to all the prisoners and says in a loud voice, “I have already cancelled your debts. It is time to step out of your prison of shame. My blood was enough!”
I hear murmuring among the prisoners and within my own self. How can we step out of this locked up prison? Was his blood really enough to remove shame? I thought I needed to keep showing my sorrow, repentance, and shame to prove I was sorry.
“For everyone in this prison who is doubting my goodness – don’t stay in this place any longer.” Jesus continues, “My Father is good and we only do good things. If you have questions then send them to the cross! The cross ends all debates and silences every accusation against my character!”
My heart begins to feel hope in this dark prison as Jesus speaks these words. I am just trying to process the whole fact that I don’t have to wear shame to prove my repentance when a dilemna hits me.
“Lord, I believe you’re probably speaking the truth, but how do we get out of this prison? Do you think you can convince the guard to let us out?”
Jesus laughs. “I have it all taken care of. Son, your accuser is shaking in his boots because you’re standing in a cell that doesn’t have a lock. You are free to leave.”