I was recently challenged to write about someone I know. A very specific someone who is extremely flawed and broken, even if they don't know it or care to admit it. Though we later joked about the specifics of why I was challenged to write it, which we actually both forgot, we were sure there was either a spiritual or life lesson attached to it. So I sat at my keyboard intrigued by the opportunity and these are the words that followed.
This person is by no means a man of any strong convictions or moral fortitude. What I know of him paints as bleak a picture as there can be painted. It's pretty much all bad. He never adequately cared for or loved his wife and children. Any money he earned was his and his alone. Any question to his authority was met with anger or violence. He would not hide his affairs, but at the "proper" time, he would smile the widest car salesman's grin when talking about his life and his spirituality. He would make you think the best of him with a hollowed out story that had no connection to reality. In fact, if he told you a story about anything, the only connection would be that it was a translation of someone else's life that he heard about.
He's much older now and what amounted to his best days, however they were wasted in abuse, neglect and lies, are well behind him now. Death, while always a certainty, I believe, must seem all too close to him right now. For many of us, or at least me, as we get older, we can't help but reflect on our lives, what we did well and what (or who) we screwed up. On the back end of 40, I can already envision the sea of apologies I'd could dole out if the opportunities existed. So, I naturally assume with this man, 35 years farther along than I, that he might have similar regrets. Even more so, in light of the life he lived while in his prime.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Despite his advanced age and impending, eventual demise, it doesn’t appear that he's changed much. He still lives off of the life stories that other people have lived, now mostly, his children's. He is still selfish and self-absorbed and wants people to serve him while he helps no one. Any conversation about faith or even a kind gestures towards his wife, quickly results in abruptly being cut off with a quick, "good-bye" and "we'll talk again soon."
What do I learn from this?
This is a man who has shown no redemptive qualities, no life lessons, save the one being, "Don’t be like this guy!" Is that the only lesson left to learn from him? He is more tolerated than liked by anybody. Some of his children, who understand the obligation to care for aging parents, actually hope that he might pass on first. He is the archetype of a person who you couldn’t help but hate because of all he's done and what appears to be his utter lack of remorse. I had a boss like that once. Some of us literally called him the devil and if he knew (and, I suspect he may have), he'd probably wear it like a crown.
I don't know if I am supposed to find a lesson for my own life in this or try to humanize him, if that's even possible. I often wonder if he's the way he is because of some mental disability. That would make it so much easier than acknowledging that he was just a mean, uncaring, abusive jerk. I also wonder if somewhere deep down, he has remorse, but because of pride and the passage of time, and a variety of other factors, he just doesn’t know how to adequately relay those feelings of sorrow or remorse. I want to believe everyone, when they come to the end of themselves, want to fix things, make amends, apologize for wrongs done. I'm making excuses, I know. He is sad man, fixed in his ways and he may someday leave this world just as he lived it. Though I hope not.
Is there anything redeemable here?
For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. - John 3:16
This frail old man is "the whosoever." Whether he ever comes to the knowledge of that is beyond my ability to know. But I know this message was for him. Some of us love to beat our chests, exclaiming in agreement with Paul's words, that, "as a sinner, I am the chief", but we don't fully mean. We certainly think we do, but we have to acknowledge that Christ came for the abusers, the mockers, the bullies. The most evil of men and women. If we are honest, we can admit to seeing a small taste of the worst of those things in us. But to be under the thumb of a bully for decades, and then having to acknowledge that Christ came for this person too, can be a hard thing to accept. None of us deserve grace, but this guy, he REALLY doesn't deserve it!
Christ came for bedraggled, sinful, ugly people. He came for women who share their beds for a price, men who mistreat their wives and kids, People who murder, steal and lie. Every category of sin, which also includes the more "respectable" ones that don’t do nearly the harm other sins do. Christ came for the kind of people that this man is. Not specifically to change him and make him better or more respectable, but simply to save him:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. - 2 Peter 3:9
My heart does grieve for him and others, though never enough. No matter how much I change, how better I am, how kinder I seem, it takes but one bad moment to remind me that I am not that far removed. I am not that much better and my works, though lovely to look at, are nothing more than a house of cards built on a solid foundation. The most gentle breeze will bring it all down even as my foundation built on Christ remains. That is always my hope even as I daily struggle with the weight of sin in my life. That I'd simply know Christ and him crucified. My prayer for this old man is that if he never admits his failings to anyone and finds no ability in his weaknesses to outwardly change as he nears the end, that he would confess to God, bend a weary knee in repentance and know that Christ has been his substitute for sin at the cross and Christ's righteousness can cover his mess of a life.
It is by grace alone, which God gives us, faith alone, which God gifts to us, and through Christ alone, whose been given for us, that God saves. Join me in prayer as we pray God would save this man and anyone you may know. That God would do his atoning, one way work in all their lives. Pray also that as we go along in this life, God continues to renew us in spirit and remind us of our hope set forth in the Gospel.
This challenge has taught me more than ever, that first and foremost, it is about salvation, about God rescuing sinners and holding back graciously in order to call those sinners to him. I am thankful for the changes in my life, but I am never thankful enough simply for the new life I've been gifted.
A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?