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Am I Not Still God?
By Criss Bertling

"Remove your belt, sir."

James hadnít thought about his belt buckle setting off the alarm when he dressed that morning. He had remembered to empty the loose change from his pockets and put his pocket knife in the glove box of his Toyota. He took off his belt as he watched his keys, wallet and Bible make their way through the surveillance machine.

"Step over here, sir."

James dutifully walked through the screening device and stood erect as the officer ran a security wand up one side of his body and down the other, searching for contraband.

"Thank you. Donít forget your personal items, sir."

At least I didnít have to take off my shoes.

"Family and friends to the left, lawyers and clergy to the right. Keep moving, please. Next."

Grey cement block encased him. Cold. Barren. Lifeless. James Miller was visiting a 25-year-old murderer today. A man who had kidnapped, raped and tortured a 16-year-old girl before discarding her battered and abused body in a creek bed.

"Sign the register, sir." The bark came from the mouth of a vacant-eyed female sitting behind a steel-reinforced window.

"Who you seeing, Reverend Miller?" She warily eyed him over the top of her glasses as she made note of the inmateís name. "Ainít too many folks come to visit that one. I know thisíd be the last place Iíd spend a Saturday morning if I wasnít getting paid to be here."

She was right. His chest tightened at the thought of being in a room the size of a closet with such evil. "Canít say I blame you. But itís Godís work Iím doing here." James wondered whether she believed him. He wasnít sure he bought it himself.

I donít know if I can do this, Lord.

"Do not be afraid, for I am with youÖ."1

Her smile softened suddenly, as if a light bulb in her awareness had switched on. "Wear your ID tag at all times. Do not hand anything to the prisoner. Do not accept anything from him. Youíve got 30 minutes. Stay alert. Good luck, Rev."

His chest constricted, his stomach wretched. He needed to escape. Lord, please. I donít know about this. Why must I be the one?

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."2

Reverend James Miller breathed deeply, then walked through the doorway marked Consultation Rooms. Voices were drawing closer to the single metal door on the opposite wall. The voice he recognized set his pulse racing. The anger in his heart betrayed him as his face flushed with resentment. The door to the holding cell swung open as he approached the single metal table bolted to the floor. Father, forgive me, but I donít want you to forgive this man. He deserves hell.

"If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stoneÖ."3

But, Lord, he brutalized and murdered an innocent girl.

"Ö.for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."4

That reminder did not sit well with James. The last time he had seen this man he had shown no signs of remorse. Just the opposite. He had taken great pleasure in taunting the reverend. This man didnít deserve the gift of eternal life, the hope that Christ offers. This sin is different, isnít it? What he did was so perverse, so satanic. My God, how can you forgive such evil?

"Ö Christ died for the ungodly."5

James knew it was useless to argue with His Creator. His responses were the same every time he cried out for God to send someone else. But he knew he had been the one chosen by God to bring the message of hope to Gerald Braynard, the message of forgiveness through the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

"Back for more, pastor? I donít have to sit in here with you, ya know? You make me sick. You make me glad for what I did. She deserved it and so do you."

James heard Godís whisper: "Öif you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."6

Braynardís demeanor had become suddenly disturbed. His usual cocky stance seemed restless and unnerved. James knew it was time. Now. Tell him now.

"God created you, Gerald. God loves you. He hates what you did but he loves you. He wants to forgive you. He wants to give you hope for eternity. He tells us in the Bible that Ďwhoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.í Would you like to know what that means?"

James felt the Holy Spirit rise within him. Lord, this poor soul needs your love. Help me do this.

God spoke to the reverendís heart again: Now, James, now is the time.

Braynard sat mute, as if entranced, staring at James.

"Gerald, I forgive you for killing my daughter."

My friendís father left the prison that day a free man. He was at peace for the first time since the county authorities appeared at his front door to ask him if he knew where his daughter was. Reverend Miller was my youth pastor. His daughter Kelly spent as much time at our house as her own. She was beautiful, talented, and loved by everyone. Her brief life was ended after a night of terror perpetrated by a man entombed by evil.

I have wrestled with God over the issue of forgiveness many times in my life. I wish I could say it gets easier. Each instance sends me to my knees and causes me to question a loving God. I cry out for an answer to the why. The truth is evil destroys. Injustice paralyzes. Bitterness consumes. If you get lost in the why, you will miss the healing that God stands eager to give. I know, learning to trust again seems impossible, risky, even foolish. Forgiving the unforgivable is a supernatural feat. But then we have a supernatural God.

The question God asks is: Am I not still God?

Yes, He is. He doesnít change. He doesnít disappear. He forgives the unforgivable and loves the unlovable Ė to the extreme of death. His son died as proof of Godís trustworthiness. So if youíre struggling with forgiving someone who has wronged you, give it to God. It doesnít matter how terrible the wrong, how undeserved the forgiveness. Itís not about them. Itís about you being free to feel love and hope and joy and peace. The freedom you will experience is second only to that which you received when you accepted Christ. Donít waste another moment in prison.

1Gen 26:24b (NIV)
2Deut 31:6
3John 8:7b
4Romans 3:23
5Romans 5:6
6Mark 11:24
Criss Bertling is a published author, freelance newspaper columnist, inspirational speaker, copy writer, Women's Ministry Director and Director of Communications. She is a mother, grandmother, "auntie" to numerous children, and mentor to some pretty spectacular young women. Criss resides in South Florida, where 24 hours in a day is never enough time to work, play, read, write, rest and pray as much as she'd like. But somehow God makes it happen in just the perfect way! You can find out more about what she's up to at www.crissbertling.com or write to Criss care of the Letters page of this magazine.
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