Many years ago, while living in Houston we were awakened in the middle of the night by police officers banging on our apartment door and bedroom window. Bewildered and bleary eyed I opened the door to hear the cause of all the uproar from one of the officers who explained that most of the cars in the parking places out front had been broken into and burglarized. The good news was that they had caught the guy and had him handcuffed and subdued in the backseat of one of the police cruisers. When I got a good look at him I noticed that he was about my age at that time; early twenties. The police wanted all those folks they had awakened and who had been robbed to identify and reclaim any items the thief had taken from their cars. As I looked over that jumbled pile of stuff the guy had broken out car windows to get at, I was amazed at the inexplicable collection of junk he had stolen. There were Tupperware containers, pots and pans, old style portable transistor radios, dirty pillows, auto parts, gear shift knobs (!),..well you get the idea. Pathetically, my plastic lunch box, hard hat, and yes, my car’s gear shift knob, were there, too. Everyone having gotten their belongings, the police hauled off the inept thief to the pokey. We all went back to bed shaking our heads at such a stupid and out of control person. The driver’s side window of my work car had been smashed by him and as I later found out would cost a little over $300.00 to replace. The deductible on my insurance for such matters was $250.00, naturally.
A few weeks later I got a subpoena to appear at this guy’s trial. Standing there in that courtroom, I watched him being led in, chains jangling, feet in shackles, handcuffed, wearing crummy flip flops and fluorescent orange colored county inmate coveralls. His hair had been burred off but was now growing back, sort of in patches. This impression of his appearance I remember quite well because it was clear he had been beaten up by other prisoners during his month long stretch in the old calaboose. I don’t care who you are, there is always somebody else who “can clean your clock.” He had multiple knots all over his head and little scabby cuts and dings covered him. I don’t think I have ever seen a more dejected figure in my entire life than this poor specimen. If he was not at rock bottom in his life, I don’t ever want to see what rock bottom looks like. He was really suffering for his wrongdoing and had not even been sentenced, yet.
Thinking of that sad incident so many years ago a passage of scripture comes to mind. 1 Peter 4:15, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.” Does it often occur to us that criminals suffer in their commission of wrong doing? Certainly those who have been stolen from have a right to complain and have been wronged. There is however, more suffering than just by the aggrieved. Thieves and robbers usually steal over and over because they have chosen to live a life taking from others, no matter whether they are drug addicts, alcoholics (and these mostly steal just to feed their bad habits) or they just enjoy taking from others and don’t care to work for a living. But no matter what, they suffer terribly for their sins just as the apostle Peter says. Of course, this is just the suffering they do here in this life, not to mention the next.
A popular story attributed to the well known Bible scholar, Matthew Henry is as follows: he comments after he had been robbed. “Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before; secondly, because although the thief took my wallet, he did not take my life; thirdly, because although he took my money, it wasn’t much; and, fourthly, because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”
Matthew Henry’s story reflects a thankful, blessed feeling as well as “a roll with the punches” kind of attitude which, in my humble opinion, is a good one for Christians to adopt. A bit of circumspection is called for:
1. As he said, “I was never robbed before” and this is because of the way he lived his life. We Christians don’t have many experiences like this because we do not go, too often, where sin lives. The company we keep also counts in this.
2. We understand acquiring substance like he did because we work for a living, and on average most of us have sufficient but do not have great abundance. So, a thief cannot get much from us that we cannot soon replace by honest toil.
3. His life was spared in the event; a great thing not only for himself to be happy about but his family would be spared such a tragedy.
4. One more thing; his life, since he had lived it morally according to the word of God, this made him one who had little temptation to be a robber because he was honest of character and would never think to do so; being so, he would not commit sin.
Why is this? Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” Most likely, the raising his parents gave him had a lot to do with his reflective thankfulness. Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
I really hope that poor young thief, sitting firmly on the rocky bottom of his life, eventually got his life together and turned away from that path of destruction and suffering. That is the choice I hope he came to understand was purely up to him. But just like the Bible commentator’s account, I am thankful for the same reasons he was thankful.
We must realize that the Lord has not died for our sins so that we may continue in them but wants us to repent of that former sinful life and live a life that is good and productive. We must live as sinless as we can because we are guided by God’s word. Hebrews 6:4-6, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”