This story, though perhaps comical to some, broke my heart. I don't know this man and I don't know his motives. But I would guess, from his reported behavior, that this was not a man who had a criminal mindset. I would suppose that this man was not robbing these women just to be a bully, but because he was desperate. He probably felt he had no other choice but to rob someone in order to meet whatever need he had. I don't know what that need was. It's possible he needed another "fix" from his drug of choice. But what if his need was something more innocent? What if he was hungry? Or had a family who was hungry?
What if his need was something more palatable to our moral taste buds?
So down the rabbit hole I went, thinking of this man and the others like him. See, we often turn our noses at people who wear their sin on their sleeve, the ones who have a scarlet "A" stitched onto their clothes. We often think that they are comfortable in their sin, maybe even happy in it. And sadly, we are sometimes right. No doubt our broken world has produced sociopaths and our fallen human nature has produced psyhcopaths. Both of whom commit crimes and sins without conscience, in fact, some even enjoy it.
But, in my ruminating I have come to the conclusion that most of the those people commiting the various sins we find so off-putting have come to that lifestyle because of trauma and/or desperation. My sister, who has a Master's degree in forensic psychology and works in rehabiltation at a state prison, tells me I am right in my idea that trauma usually precedes crime.
For example, when someone says the word "prostitute," we conjure up images of druggies or degenerates walking the streets in mini-skirts and four-inch-heels. We might even condemn them for their lascivioius lifestyle. But what if those women are in that "industry" not by choice? As we are learning, a lot of prostitutes are actually slaves, forced into selling their bodies. But, even the ones who aren't forced by traffickers are slaves to childhood trauma of sexual abuse, emotional trauma of being told they are worthless, or even something as innocent of having no other means to keep a roof over her head and food in her stomach.
Her need for shelter, food, safety, and unconditional love is calling out through her acts of prostitution.
When I was in high school, I would go once a week with my buddies to People's Park in Berkeley. We would first make sandwiches and fill baggies with cookies. Then we'd roam the park and the streets, passing out the food and talking to the homeless people. Sometimes we'd take clothes with us. I was 15. My buddies were 17 and 18. Sometimes we had some pretty humourous encounters like the man who sat on the corner of Telegraph Ave and Channing Way who would throw his sandwich at us if we mistakenly gave him one with mustard on it.
But then we had a few amazing moments like the time a man sat with us on the edge of concrete planters at the fork of Dwight Way and Telegraph and poured out his heart. He'd had a job, a good job. But he'd lost it in the recession a few years earlier. (this was now 1992) Then his wife took their kids and left. He lost his home. Then his family wanted nothing to do with him. Then he even lost his car. And now he was on the streets and had been so for a couple years.
If you'd seen this man, you would have thought he was a druggie, or a criminal, or even crazy. He looked no different from every other homeless man in Berkeley. He was angry, bitter, scared. I don't know if he'd ever commited a crime or had been caught up in sin. I imagine he probably had. But I know his name was Richard and he was hurting.
Hurt is often what causes someone to choose to remain in sin. Yes, sometimes it's pride and sometimes its psychosis and sometimes it's just evil. But a lot of times, maybe more often than not, it's hurt.
Greed is a sin usually caused by the trauma of being deprived or the misbelief that more stuff makes us whole.
Gossip is a sin usually caused by the hurt of being left out.
Sexual sins are usually caused by sexual abuse.
I could go on and on, for every sin, even the "innocent" ones that seem to have no victim, have a cause. And all those sins have their cause in common: hurt. Deep, emotional hurt which is then exascerbated by the enemy who spends all of his time reminding these people that they are nothing. That their hurts far outweigh their blessings, that they are justified in behaving this way, that no one wants them, that no one loves them.
So their hurt produces a need. A need to be whole. And their crime or their sin it fills that hole in their heart. Temporarily. It actually just makes the hole bigger, the way my daughter stretches a hole in her leggings, by unraveling the threads and pulling at the edges. So their need grows and they fill it with more and more sin and crime until it overtakes them. But, there's another way.
What if they find out the truth? What if they find out they are loved? Loved for who they are, where they are, regardless of what they've done? Loved by others, loved by the God who created them?
What if someone like Jesus walks by and pours love on them the way He did with the leper, the prostitute, the beggar, the tax collector, and all the other "sinners" that Pharisees deemed unworthy?
What if we went out into the world looking more like Jesus? What if we surrendered our Pharisee ways of looking down at those caught up in sin? What if when we looked at these people, we didn't see their sin but we saw their need? What if?