A few months ago I posted on Facebook a letter I received from a man serving life in prison for first degree murder. He expressed gratitude to me that my books had helped him through his darkest and most hopeless moments. Though I received more than a thousand “likes” and dozens of comments from Facebook fans about my posting, one woman’s comment in particular struck me.
“…[that criminal] shouldn’t have a book that takes him from the punishment that his actions brought upon him…anything that can act like a cheerleader to raise his spirits seems contrary to doing his penance and making payment to society…I quite frankly don’t give one rats [sic] ass how his day to day spirits are…
A few people “liked” her comment. More were repulsed. One man wrote, “Do you have any idea how sick you sound?”
The woman responded, “You’re judging me? I didn’t realize that Jesus was hiring.”
I finally responded to the increasingly hostile thread with a Bible verse from Matthew 25:36
I was in prison and you visited me…
Honestly, I can’t judge this woman. Perhaps she was a victim of a violent crime or had lost a loved one to murder. Perhaps, under such circumstances, I would have felt the same.
I receive a lot of mail from prison. I have also spoken in prison a half dozen times or more. The first time I spoke I had an experience that I never expected–one that I’ll never forget.
After passing through the security check, the guards pointed out where I was speaking and I walked to the building alone, falling in with a long line of prisoners–me in a dark business suit, they in their cotton jumpsuits.
The room was full of felons. In fact, just before I began my talk, the pastor who had invited me to speak informed me that the men were “pretty much all murderers.” In spite of my trepidation, the words came effortlessly. Then, a little ways into my talk, something very peculiar happened–something that’s a little difficult to explain and perhaps even more difficult to believe.
A powerful feeling came over me–one that was so strong that my legs went weak and I had to lean on the lectern to support myself. It wasn’t fear or anxiety I felt, it was the opposite. It was an intense feeling of love–not from me, but from some external force.
The feeling took my breath away. For a moment I stopped speaking and just looked out over the men. Then I asked, “Can you feel that?”
The men just looked at me.
I said, “This is remarkable. I can feel the love that God has for you…”
After my talk I embraced nearly every one of those men. (I was informed later that physical contact wasn’t allowed.) Afterwards I told the pastor what I had felt. He nodded with understanding. “I’ve felt that before,” he said. “It’s a remarkable feeling.” Then he added. “We don’t ever stop loving our children, do we?”
As I walked out of the prison it occurred to me that if God loved these felons so powerfully–these men who had sinned so gravely–why then do we sometimes question God’s love because of our own minor foibles and failed natures? That night I realized that that experience had been a gift to me–a beautiful gift of understanding. Something, perhaps, that I could only have learned in prison.
Please Share. Richard Paul Evans is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than thirty books. His latest book, THE MISTLETOE INN, is currently a New York Times bestseller and is now on sale. Join Richard’s Facebook Page by clicking here.