A man killed a mother and her infant child over money. A filmmaker lured young boys to his home with the promise of fame and fortune so that he could molest them. A man drove off after stealing gas from a local station and crashed into a van, killing a mother and seriously injuring her two young sons.
These who have caused immense suffering in the lives of others aren’t people I casually read about in the newspaper or on Facebook. They are my clients. My days are spent reviewing court documents that detail their crimes and the suffering they have caused. I view gruesome autopsy photos, listen to appalling descriptions from eyewitnesses, and travel to prisons all over the state to talk face to face with the people responsible for it all.
I am a post-conviction criminal defense attorney and, unlike a trial lawyer, I represent people after they have been found guilty and sentenced to prison. I advocate for people who have committed incomprehensible acts of evil.
Christ Changed My World
Before I surrendered my life to Christ, I tried protecting myself from the pain and suffering I saw. I viewed my clients as cases, not people. I saw their crimes as acts deemed illegal by our government, not as evil deeds. And I tried not to think about the victims at all. Yet I considered myself a noble person since I was giving a voice to people who couldn’t speak for themselves.
But after becoming a Christian, my view changed. I began seeing my clients as human beings, and I started feeling the pain and suffering their evil inflicted on others. For every case I reviewed, I felt a small part of the pain and suffering the victims endured. There were times the pain was so great that I considered changing careers. But God kept drawing me back.
I struggled with finding God in all this—and sometimes still do. There have been days when I’ve felt as if there is nothing good in the world, only evil. On those days, I’ve felt as if the evil was pulling me under. I could see goodness above the surface, but I couldn’t reach it, couldn’t touch it, couldn’t feel it.
How Pain Can Transform
God uses pain and suffering to transform us. One client’s case reminded me of this work recently. Years ago he was addicted to drugs, needed money, and decided to rob an elderly woman who’d rented him a room. For reasons even he cannot explain, my client killed her.
When I first met him in prison, I was having one of those days where the evil seemed overwhelming. Everywhere I turned, it felt like there was just darkness—young children waiting to visit an incarcerated parent, looking scared and confused, and elderly parents visiting their incarcerated children, wondering where things went so wrong.
As I reviewed some documents while waiting to meet my client, I began questioning whether there even was a God and, if so, where he was in this chaos. As I walked back to the visiting room and heard the bars clang shut behind me, I reminded myself I was just there to do a job.
But the man who sat down in front of me was not whom I expected. He told me that he’d repented and embraced Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and that he’d been baptized. Our conversation that day was different from conversations I usually have with my clients. He didn’t try to place blame elsewhere for his actions. He didn’t complain about being incarcerated or contemplate ways to obtain his release.
Instead, he seemed content with his life. He told me God was changing him, and he seemed almost thankful for his circumstances. He expressed sorrow for the pain he had caused and became emotional when telling me he didn’t feel he was worthy of God’s grace. But he accepted God’s grace and said prison would not be the end of his story. Finally, he told me to take all the time I needed to review his case since he knew he deserved to be sitting in prison.
God Is Always There
As I left the prison and walked to my car, it was almost as if the weight had been lifted. No longer did I doubt God was there; no one but God could have been responsible for my client’s transformation.
That conversation is a daily reminder to me that God is always present, even in worst of suffering. I still feel pain when I read about the crimes people commit. Just last week in a small town near my own, a toddler was brutally raped and murdered. I wept as I imagined what her last minutes in this world must have been like. But rather than feel as if the evil is pulling me under, I try to remember that Jesus, who was called a man of sorrows (Isa. 53:4), is always there—especially in suffering. After all, he suffered for sinners like me.
Editors’ note: This essay was chosen as part of the Faith and Work Dinner being hosted by Every Square Inch and sponsored by EDGE Mentoring and Cerulean Restaurant at our 2016 National Women’s Conference next month, June 16 to 18 in Indianapolis. Space at TGCW16 is running out, so register for the conference soon!
EDGE is a national mentoring organization for emerging leaders that combines personal, professional, and spiritual development in one experience. If you’re looking to mentor, or be mentored, you can find out more.