Tom Parker is a judge in the Summit County Court of Common Pleas. He and his wife recently joined the little band of believers who meet in my basement every Sunday night to remind one another of The Good News.
Yes, Tom and Melissa are “Cellar Dwellers.” Go figure.
If you asked Tom what he’s learned about God’s justice and mercy during his time on the bench, you’d probably hear this story:
“But, I’m a Good Person!” Really? by Tom Parker
Mr. Sanders’ eyes rarely met mine. Sure, he looked at me briefly and mumbled “Guilty” when I asked how he wished to plead to the criminal charges he was facing. But he was definitely having a hard time maintaining eye contact.
I was not surprised. Many who appear before the judge to face the consequences of their action are on a journey between fact and fiction. And, to them, the judge sits a little too close to fact.
Most defendants know that what they say to the judge before the sentence is imposed is crucial to the determination of their punishment. Some decide the time has come to be completely honest, by saying things like,
I did it. I don’t have any excuse for my crimes. I’m ready to receive my punishment.
Some maintain their innocence, awaiting their appeal. They say,
Judge, I didn’t do it. The jury got it wrong. I deserve to go free.
Then you get people like my fictitious Mr. Sanders. They’ll say things like,
Judge, I know I lied to gain entry to that house. I know I stole the homeowner’s priceless, irreplaceable stamp collection and pawned it so I could get money for drugs. But, judge, that was completely out of character. That was not me! I really am a good person! I just made a mistake!
When I hear that, the conversation often goes like this:
Mr. Sanders, what do you call a person who tells lies?
And what do you call someone who steals things?”
What does that make you?
A liar and a thief.
Mr. Sanders, most of the people I know don’t consider liars and thieves to be good people.
While my Mr. Sanders is fictitious, and while you may smile at my clever way of cutting through his self-deception, if you are like me, you may see some of yourself in him.
Don’t we all do that at first? Before we realize our need for a Savior, we foolishly attempt to bamboozle God by statements such as, “I’m really not that bad—my good deeds outweigh my bad ones.”
And we back that up by comparing ourselves to others who seem worse than we are.
Who do we think we are kidding? Hebrews 4:13 says, Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
As a judge, at sentencing time I have an opportunity to show mercy to some. Who do you suppose is most likely to receive it? The person who isn’t even honest with himself? Or the person who has laid down his or her pretense?
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives (1 John 1:8-10).
Friends, God is waiting to save. Based on the finished work of His Son on the cross, he is willing to forgive. His eyes range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
We can start the flow of strengthening grace by being totally honest with ourselves—about ourselves.