He came up to me after I had spoken about “Ethics in Leadership” at a community college. Near the end of the session I had said something about hope, and this nicely groomed young man in his upper twenties or early thirties said he was struggling with hopelessness.
The following Monday was to be his first day at a new job, but on Friday he received a call saying the job offering had been revoked because his background check revealed a felony conviction from when he was 19 years old.
This father of four who was trying to live responsibly and to put his past behind him was feeling hopeless because our society made it hard for him to do what is right. He had technically “paid his debt to society,” but it seemed society wanted to extract more from him, that it would never be satisfied, that he would always be in “debt” because of teenage crimes.
That simply is not right. When a person breaks the law, he or she should be punished accordingly. Punishment ought to end when the sentence has been served. A person should have a clean slate. He or she should not have a “record.”
I’m so thankful God does not keep a record. God forgives. Otherwise, I would be toast. I could never move on and be productive in God’s work if my past failings continued to be waved in front of my spiritual face. I think of John Newton, the former slave trader who wrote the classic song, “Amazing Grace.” Yes, grace, “how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
More than spiritual grace needed. A godly people living in a democratic society will want their legal system to hold a place for grace, as well, especially after someone has “done his time.”
And Christian business people will want to have a place for grace in their hiring — a desire to look beyond what has been to what might be. A person’s past criminal record is not relevant in hiring; a person’s potential for productive contribution is really what matters.
When people are young, they do some stupid things. And some of them were never taught any better. We all need a chance to make the most of the life God has given us — looking forward to what might be instead of backward at what was. That is God’s way of grace; that is our way of grace.