Grieving is like riding a bicycle. Once you’ve done it, you never forget how.
It crashes over you with breathtaking force.
The swollen aching sinuses from hours of crying.
The pounding headache.
The bitter salt taste coating your mouth and throat.
The bone-deep exhaustion.
And it hits without warning.
A couple of days ago I agreed to write for People of the Second Chance’s new campaign, “Never Beyond.” I was going to write about forgiveness and how much it costs, and how while we should be willing to give forgiveness, it must be asked of us first, before we give it.
Then I saw a tweet with this headline. “Father confesses to decapitating special-needs son.”
The tears welled up before I even clicked the link. After I read the story, I couldn’t stop crying for this little boy and for his mother. My grief for them was as fresh and raw and full-bodied as my grief for my daughter Ellie. She had the same condition as the murdered boy.
I didn’t grieve for the father. I hated him with a body-wracking blind rage. He killed a helpless child in a way designed to torment his wife.
But as the rage retreated, the sobs slowed, and exhaustion settled like fog, I thought about the People of the Second Chance again. I thought about this week’s Never Beyond poster, Casey Anthony, and I thought about her dead child.
I realized that if I believe in the power of God to redeem anyone and to overcome evil, how could I turn around and insist that this man is beyond all hope of a second chance?
What does that even mean?
When Jesus spoke to people about reconciling with God, he talked about confessing and repenting. He asks us to name our sin, calling it what it is (confess), and turn away from it to do what is right (repent). Have you ever done that? It is tough.
This man, should he come to his senses one day and recognize the unspeakable wrong he did to his son and to his wife, if he confesses and repents of it, and prostrates himself before God pleading for mercy, should he not receive forgiveness and a second chance?
God knows our hearts – God sees a scammer and a fraud, and God knows genuine brokenness and repentance. If this man truly repented, God would forgive him. This is God’s promise – to forgive and restore repentant sinners. If he failed to do so in this case, none of us would have any hope.
He has forgiven and restored me countless times. I have lied and cheated and stolen and worshipped false gods and dishonored my parents and coveted … oh how I have coveted. And if Jesus meant this literally when he said that a person who looks at someone with hatred is guilty of murder, then I’ve murdered too.
I don’t exactly know what second chances look like – I suspect it varies with the person and the situation. I do know that second chances don’t free us from the natural consequences of our actions. Second chances cannot undo the harm of the original sin to others or to ourselves. This man took a child’s life. That cannot be reversed. The pain I’ve inflicted on others with my sins and the damage I’ve done to myself cannot be taken back. But when Jesus gives us a second chance, he shows us a way forward. In a mysterious way we cannot understand, God redeems our sin and brings good out of it.
Please don’t hear me wrong. I am not saying that God renames evil as “good.” I do not believe that God will never say, “The murder of this child is good” or “Cancer is good” or “Rape is good.” Sin is sin. But God can bring something good out of sin and evil. We see this most clearly in Jesus’s death – he was a threat to the established leaders. But in the murder of his Son, God defeated death and sin and removed the need for the sacrificial system and made peace between us and God.
God is a God of second chances. As his people, we need to be people of second chances.