Beyond Redemption: When God Reconsiders

Beyond Redemption: When God Reconsiders April 11, 2011

My mama spent the better part of her adult life behind bars.

It’s a disturbing thing to say but true nonetheless.

Fact is a goodly number of my people have spent time behind bars. 

Recently my son Stephan came across this old newspaper clipping about Mama’s brother being arrested in Richland, Washington.

A poetic thing really, given that I grew up in Georgia and later became the Oregon Bureau reporter for the Tri-Cities newspaper, which includes Pasco, Kennewick and yep, you guessed it — Richland.

Rink as the paper calls him was known to all of us as Uncle Tub.

It was a nickname given to him by his older brother Roy.  Roy told me he gave that name to Tub because he had the bighead — Tubhead.

I’m not sure what Rink refers to. You know how southerners have such a penchant for nicknames.

The only nickname Mama ever had is Seester. Uncle Charlie always called her that: “Hey Seester.”

When I was little the family referred to me as Sissy. Well, mostly that’s what Brother John called me.

A student asked me the other day if I’d ever spent time in jail. Yes, I said.

One night.

Of my own choosing. I had the Sheriff arrest me and book me on a drummed up charge of Driving under the Influence. They put me in one of those orange jumpsuits — which wasn’t really all that bad because orange is one of my signature colors. Took my mug shot, which I still have around here somewhere, and put me in solitary confinement.

Because I was really a journalist and doing a story, they didn’t want to endanger me in anyway. That wouldn’t look too good in the headlines.

Since I knew I wasn’t going to be in jail longer than 24 hours, it really wasn’t bad. If you are claustrophobic like my husband or my daughter, it’s not a place you want to spend a great deal of time. My jail cell wasn’t anything like those roomy ones you see on TV. It was more like a quarter of the size of a the old-fashioned college dorm room. Just enough room to squat and sleep, but not to kneel and pray, which is the thing I’d really need to be doing if I was going to be in jail for any longer a time period than 24 hours.

Unlike her brother(s), Mama didn’t spend time in jail because of any wrongdoing on her behalf. She was there because she was a prison nurse. People in jail get sick just like anywhere else.

They get colds and the flu. They have high blood pressure and strokes. They have addictions of all sorts, and some have AIDs. Sometimes they cut themselves or others.

I never understood how Mama treated some of those people.

If it had been me, I would just let some of them die. Like that man who murdered those young parents and left their baby in the graveyard, crying by her lonesome. I might have tarried before helping him after somebody, not him, cut his throat and left him for dead in his prison cell.

I’ve been thinking a lot about prisons and the people who inhabit them as of late. (I find it completely and utterly ironic that the best health care in the system is granted without question or argument to inmates, but that’s another debate for another day.)

Mostly I’ve been trying to parse out this question — do you suppose there are people for whom redemption is no longer a possibility?

Because if Satan, who was perfect in every which way, can get his butt tossed out of heaven, doesn’t it stand to reason that we could do something equally as offensive and cause God to reconsider his first offer?

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  • 1 Timothy 1:12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service,
    v.13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;
    v.14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.

    Do I think the very worst people can be redeemed? Absolutely. For His purposes, not necessarily ours.

  • But for the grace of God, there go I . . .

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      God’s grace and my choices.

  • Nora

    God doesn’t toss us out of heaven, we toss ourselves out. But we are all of us, each and every one, redeemable, no matter what our pasts.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Yeah. I guess I don’t really believe that.

  • Sure glad you clarified why I spent 22 years in prison.It was not my job to judge the prisoner It was where God put me to serve .

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Haha. I knew I would hear from you, Mama. 🙂

  • Cedric Klein

    I wonder about that also. Look through the Bible & you see lots of ‘heroes’ who screw up- Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, etc.- lying, cheating, killing, adultering, paganizing, and then being redeemed. But there is not one Biblical example of a serial killer or sexual predator coming to God for forgiveness. Saul of Tarsus as a persecutor of Christians is the closest Biblical example of a redeemed ex-monster. I often wonder what exactly Jesus would have done if they’d brought a serial pedophile before him to be stoned. And based on what He said about those who offend the little ones, I don’t think the story would have gone the way he did with the Woman Caught in Adultery.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      This is the question I am wrestling with — is there a difference between choosing to sin and choosing evil? While God’s grace abounds, is it possible to move beyond the point of redemption? Because if it isn’t possible, how does one explain Satan? If grace is always available, then technically, Satan could ask for forgiveness and be redeemed right?
      And it is noteworthy that the thing that did Satan in is narcissism — the very thing so many in our culture are battling…
      Oh. So. Many. Questions.
      And, yes, if you study Mark 9 — and what do we have to go on other than God’s word to decided these things — it would indicate that those who harm children or those who think as a child, are taking that step beyond redemption.

    • Cedric, if you read the verses I posted in the first comment, it’s clear that blasphemy was considered the worst sin of all. Especially in light of the verses which follow the ones I posted, it’s clear that Jesus can and will redeem the worst of the worst, if they are willing.

      I have argued with Karen about this before. I know it bothers a lot of folks to think that child molesters, Jeffery Dahmer, etc, can have all their sins wiped away, but it really shouldn’t. Because if we get to a place where we say some people are so bad they should never be able to get to heaven, then we’re saying that there are some sins Jesus’ blood will not cover. And that would mean our eternity is based on our goodness, not His. Such a concept turns biblical Christianity upside down.

      Powerful statement here:

      1 Timothy 1:15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
      v.16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        So then, James, is it possible that Satan too has the chance to seek forgiveness and be redeemed? Does the blood of Christ cover him too?

        • Karen, I don’t write the verses. They seem clear to me, but also seem to only apply to people.

  • Sue

    Karen, I’ve often pondered this very question seeing as how my stepfather died in a prison for sexually molesting two of my blood nieces and a nephew and years later would learn he had done the same to his own daughter. The thing that ticked us off was he died only four years into serving a 10 year sentence. He claimed “salvation in the Lord” right before my Mother married him-decades ago- but now knowing all we do, I wonder if he was really saved or did this evil desire he had get the best of him or exactly what?! Is he in Hell now? Only God knows of course but I can tee totally relate to your scenario of tarrying a bit so others could do a little damage first. I know that God can give evildoers over to their reprobate minds/desires, so in this sense I’m going to jump out and say Yes, I do believe there are those who are beyond redemption and God already knows that anyway. (Even though I also agree with all the commenters) I’ll add that forgiveness hasn’t been easy when I see the ongoing fallout with my abused relatives and it will be a life long process for me.

    And I’m glad to hear your Mama was a prison nurse! 🙂

    • Karen Spears Zacharias


      So saddened to learn of this story. Sometimes I wonder if this notion that a person can be redeemed — no matter what — makes it easier for folks like your step-father and others to do the evil they do.

      I mean if you know you can pray the sinner’s prayer at any time, why not do what you want in the meantime?

      RE: forgiveness. I thought about that while writing this post. The thing I wonder is it possible that we can forgive others their offense and still believe that they have moved beyond a point of redemption?

      • Karen, I’d say that the sinner’s prayer is not really the way to salvation, despite all we have been told all our lives. If an actual heart change doesn’t occur, there is no salvation.

    • was HITLER redeemed? did he fulfil prophecy?

  • Sue

    Karen, I just don’t know the answer to that question other than to say Scripture tells us that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will inherit the kingdom of God. I figure God already knows the intent of man’s heart so those who would knowingly continue down an evil slope, even saying that prayer, will possibly find themselves in Hell. I do believe it is a command from Jesus to forgive those who hurt us (even though a long process), whether that person asks us to forgive them or not. My stepfather never asked our forgiveness or showed any remorse so yes, I will say it IS possible to personally forgive a heinous crime and the perp/person be beyond redemption. Regardless of the words coming out of someone’s mouth, God always knows the sincerity of a person and I believe that there are many things God has kept secret from us while giving us what we need to know to have eternal life and walk with Him now.

  • Rose Marie Morton

    This is such a complicated issue that I’ve written and deleted several replies. But for me, this is one of those questions that I leave for God. I have the faith of a child, when the burden is too heavy, Christ carries the burden for me. And the burden of evil is too heavy for me.

  • My father grew up in church. He stopped going after he heard a preacher say that if Hitler confessed on his death bed and gave his life to Christ he would go to heaven. He just couldn’t accept that. All I know is that I’m certainly glad God is the judge and not me.

    I do tend to think that people who are complete narcissists/sociopaths are incapable of understanding grace because the concept of doing anything without motive is so foreign to them. But like I said, I’m glad God is the judge and not me.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Your father and I would get along

  • Debbie

    I think somewhere (maybe Hebrews) talks about Jesus taking on the likeness of man to redeem man…not angels. So I am certain the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sin applies only to man not the angels. Maybe because the just shall live by faith and faith is believing in what is not seen…angels have seen God so I guess they don’t require faith.
    I have heard some people debate whether Satan is actually an angel yet those kind of conversations are not my cup of tea.
    Jesus talks about how blaspheming the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven in this age or the next (His words) so I do think that some people will reject God as He is revealed in Christ by The Spirit and it will be what will be for them. If sin is not about breaking rules but about breaking relationships, by failing to love or even by failing to receive Love, then I guess some will reject The Gift of Righteousness in Christ.
    If salvation is initiated by God then maybe refusing His Hand of fellowship is a very serious thing. And it can be refused by the gossip just as easily as the pedophile.
    Yeah I think sin is more about breaking relationship than it is about committing a crime.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      And, the original question — can we move beyond redemption — is more about evil than crime or sin, too.
      I think perhaps part of the issue for me is that we’ve parsed up the word in such a narrow way — this one is saved, that one is not. Without considering the whole of who God is — merciful, yes, but also a just God.
      I’d have a difficult time allowing that any God who’d welcome Hitler beyond the pearly gates as just.
      And likewise for the God who would allow that those who choose beyond sin , chooses real evil.
      But maybe Rose has it right and I’m just wading into murky waters way over my head…

      • Debbie

        I think you have a very good reason to be contemplating such a murky water. I was recently doing a bible study on Isaiah and was struck by how God used the Assyrians to do what they did to the Israelites and then God turns His hand against the Assyrians and then a few chapters later there is Egypt, Assyria and Israel all worshipping The Lord together…just left me thinking, “I’ll never comprehend the depths of His Mercy, I am just grateful He is merciful and just”. Even if I find His Justice way beyond my finite thinking too.
        I don’t like the idea of Hitler being forgiven and at the same time I wonder if…now if I say out loud what I am thinking it could cause all sorts of shite…so maybe I will remain silent I think and do just as Rose is doing…leave that burden with God.