Many of have been injured due to their own foolishness. How are we to handle those who have deliberately made wrong choices?
It was in the midst of armed conflict in Iraq that a young American soldier made a foolish mistake that almost ended his life. It was a mistake that should never have happened. He should have known better. He had been taught the rules of engagement for battle. In Basic Training, his instructors had drilled him again and again on how to handle such circumstances as the one he was now facing in Iraq. He had even memorized the proper protocol from his manual, and could recite it without so much as a slight hesitation.
In the heat of battle, all of his training seemed to go out the window. In a moment of carelessness, he acted the wrong way and was injured. It was a serious injury.
“You’re going home, son,” he was told by his superior. “Your service to your country is appreciated. You risked your life here today and have paid a price. On behalf of your President and a proud country, thank you.”
When the young man returned back to his small hometown, a celebration awaited him. The people were proud that their hometown boy had fought on the front line. He was called a hero, a brave soldier, and a true patriot. At his church on the Sunday after his return home, he received special recognition in a service where the congregation honored him. The local newspaper reporter was there and wrote an article that appeared in the paper the following day. “Young Hero Honored” the headline read.
That’s how they all saw him. Nobody disputed it. There was another young man from that same congregation. He had become a Christian in that church after years of addiction to alcohol and drugs. The transformation was amazing. The church nurtured him, loved him. It was in that church that he began to sense an inward stirring to go to seminary and prepare for lifelong service as a pastor.
During the years he had been in seminary, his church supported him financially and with their encouragement. They knew that he was being taught how to live the life of a pastor. He was learning how to offer spiritual guidance to others. They couldn’t have been more proud.
Then one day, a leader in the church received a telephone call from this young man. The news that followed was devastating. He began to pour out his story – of how he had been having marital problems. He told about how his grades had been slipping. He had been working a full forty hours a week at night while attending school full time.
Somehow in the midst of it all, he had allowed himself to slip back into drinking patterns that had held him years ago. Nobody knew about his relapse until a few nights before when he was stopped by the police and arrested for drunk driving. An article on page 2 in the local newspaper the next day read, “Local Seminarian Arrested.”
Within 24 hours, he was expelled from the seminary. Devastated by what had happened, he explained his decision to move back home with his family. “We will be moving in with my wife’s parents for a few weeks while we find a place to live,” he said. “I’ll plan to see you at church on Sunday.” When the church leader hung up the phone, he was stunned.
How do you imagine the events of the following weeks unfolding in this young man’s home church? How do you think he would be received when he came back to the church that week? What words would your church use to describe this young seminarian? Would it be the same words they would use to describe the soldier?
Consider these similarities between the two men: 1. Both the soldier and the seminarian had been trained for handling front line battle situations. 2. They were both fighting for a noble cause. 3. They both knew how they should respond in circumstances where they were at risk. 4. They both failed because they didn’t practice what they had been taught. 5. They both came back home to their church.
Would you receive them both back home in the same way? What would you say to the soldier? To the seminarian? Do you believe that to call the young man who failed to live up to his place as a soldier a hero is inappropriate? Would this be likely to cause other soldiers to conclude that it really doesn’t matter if they live up to their training and position as soldiers? Would it encourage carelessness among the ranks? Would it give them a “license” to become poor soldiers?
There are many who have been on the front lines of spiritual service who were wounded – many of them have been injured due to their own foolishness. How are we to handle those who have deliberately made wrong choices?
The Bible offers a few examples. How did the father of the prodigal receive his son who had intentionally chosen the far country? How did Jesus respond to the woman caught in the very act of adultery? How do you handle those who have made wrong choices?
Are we to be “soft on sin?” Of course not. But we are to be soft on people. Those who have been wounded don’t need our scorn. They need our sympathy. Defeated soldiers have rehearsed their failure in their own minds a thousand times. They need love, not lectures. They need acceptance, not accusations.
Pray and ask God to bring to mind a soldier you know who has been wounded in battle. Then pray for that person. Maybe it would be good to call them or visit them and let them know that you love them. Remember the only way a soldier ever gets hurt is if he was in the battle. Those who never move to the front lines won’t be hurt. Only those who face the enemy up close and personal run that risk.
Some may come home bloody and broken. But remember – they were in the fight. How they are received home may set the course for the rest of their lives. Reach out today to a wounded soldier and be among the minority of those who show love and prove that they actually care. That’s what grace does.