It’s fairly common these days to find at least one breaking story about someone in a high position who’s done something in their past that—now known—makes them unqualified to hold the position they’re in. Let’s be honest, though. Each one of us—no matter where we’re from or what age we are—has done something stupid, embarrassing, or inexplicable at some point in our lives that we’d rather just keep to ourselves. For the majority of us, that something will remain forever hidden in our past. But for those in the public eye, once their grand error in judgment makes the news, their fate will be decided by the general populous—a group generally not described as “forgiving.”
Our rush to judgment and lack of forgiveness for the mistakes of others is interesting considering all the excuses we make for ourselves: I was young and ignorant… I didn’t know what I was doing, really, or what it meant… Yes, it was horrible and I don’t know what I was even thinking… I’m not like that now… I’ve changed…
Are they empty excuses or a true change of character? Was it a one-time, ill-advised choice or a pattern of behavior? Has the person really changed?
It’s so hard to know for sure the answer to any of those questions, but I’m afraid we don’t even ask those questions anymore. We never entertain the possibility that the person may have learned from that long-ago mistake. Rather, we unmercifully judge and exact punishment. We alienate and expel. We definitely don’t entertain the possibility that the person may have already redeemed their negative past for a positive future. Then again, maybe they haven’t. But how will we ever know?
In the New Testament, we read of a man who stood by and watched a Christian be stoned to death. Not only did he watch, but “he approved of their killing him.” He also made threats toward anyone who tried to spread the gospel, and even went to neighboring towns looking for Christians to bring back to Jerusalem for punishment.
Under his Hebrew name of Saul, he would be struck blind by Jesus while on his way to Damascus to imprison Christians. He would later have his sight returned and be chosen by God to bring the gospel to Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. He would write at least eight (possibly as many as 13) books of the New Testament. He and another disciple would co-establish the first church at Antioch. Saul would eventually stop using his Hebrew name in lieu of his Roman name… and Paul would become one of the greatest apostles, spreading the gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike throughout Asia Minor and Europe.
Paul proclaimed the gospel of Jesus in the synagogues, even under the threat of death.
Paul also did nothing to stop the stoning of the disciple Stephen in the streets of Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, he approved of it.
When Paul came to the disciples, they were afraid of him. Nevertheless, they asked questions and they listened to Barnabas who vouched for Paul’s conversion and his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. Humans are capable of horrible injustices, and sometimes they never change.
And sometimes—through the grace of God and the redeeming power of Jesus Christ—they do.