My path to vocational ministry is non-traditional. Leading up to this transition in my occupation, I worked previously as an Army officer, business manager and owner as well as an attorney at law. When I first practiced law, my primary focus was in the sphere of criminal defense. The bulk of that criminal defense practice was representing court-appointed clients. These were folks charged with a crime who couldn’t afford an attorney.
In those days when I talked about work or now when I tell stories about that time, some people have a noticeable reaction. They make a face, however subtle, that indicates they can’t pay attention to the details because they are distracted by the arrangement. “How could you represent those people? They aren’t Christians, and you are, so how could you represent them?” Many times, it’s just the look, but sometimes it’s explicitly asked. Church polite, of course, but asked just the same.
By contrast, one day walking out of the courthouse I called my wife and told her, “I can’t believe more Christians don’t choose the practice of law as their place of calling.” After all, I reasoned, where else are you in a position where broken, desperate people come to you asking for your counsel and assistance? Where else is light so necessary than in the darkest places of society?
Working closely with those whose lives were in peril of being consumed by darkness gave me a greater appreciation for light. We all need some realization of darkness to remind us of the Light within. We also need some realization of darkness to remind us of the darkness within. The degree of separation between “them” and “us” is less than you might imagine. A twist here and a turn there in life’s circumstances can lead people into situations both unplanned for and undesired.
The overlap in working with “church folks” and court-appointed folks is more similar than you might think, as well. Sure, most of the church folks in the relatively privileged suburbs present themselves better than the accused of the court-appointed criminal justice system. The underlying human condition, however, is just as dark. People are people.
Here, however, is the biggest difference: Those accused and convicted of crimes realize the urgency and near hopelessness of their condition. They know they need help. They know they’re messed up and more often than not are desperate for any glimmer of hope. The socially acceptable, comfortable Christians often think they have things figured out. They rationalize that Jesus loves them regardless, and nobody (they hope) knows about their “indiscretions.” And after all, their flaws aren’t as “bad” as the indigent criminal; likely not even perceived to be as bad as the rumors they’ve heard – and helped spread – about the guy across the pew.
Dark is dark and pretending it’s light by shades of comparison cheapens the grace of Jesus Christ. He didn’t die for us to be judgmental by comparison or dismissive of the heart in need of redemption. He wants to transform us from glory to glory, but we can’t go to the next glory believing the glory we’ve already experienced somehow jumped us ahead to a place of superiority.
– From “Transforming the Prodigal Soul” available here