The God of Second Chances
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"The first day I walked into prison, and he slammed that door, I knew the magnitude of the decision that I made,” the young man told the interviewer. “And, you know, it's no way of explaining the hurt and the guilt that I felt. And that was the reason I cried so many nights.”
Throughout the interview, he expressed the guilt he felt after putting his family, friends, and the people who stood by him through the pain of watching him go to prison. He just turned 29, and for the last two years, he’s been in a federal prison.
"Now you know most people who get in trouble, all of a sudden they find God. And you say?" the interviewer asked.
He told the interviewer without a moment of hesitation, "It's the only way I made it through prison. It's the only way I could live life is having faith and believing in the higher power, believing in God."
Born to two unwed, teenaged parents struggling to make ends meet, he spent a lot of time at the local Boys and Girls Club growing up. He loved sports, and they helped keep him off the streets.
He was selected for a scholarship at a prestigious university, and while there, became one of its most popular students.
After graduating from college, he landed a job that made him a millionaire. But, even though he was several hundred miles from the rough neighborhood he grew up in, he made frequent trips home. He now financially supported several members of his family and kept close ties to his old friends.
The place he worked connected him with a local minister to try and help mentor him, but his ties back home, with friends who were living wayward lifestyles, were still a major influence. Despite his success since college, he was still loyal to his friends—a loyalty so deep that it would eventually cost him everything.
When he was 27, the police started investigating some of his friends back home for illegal activity, and they started to question whether he was involved too. Scared, afraid of losing everything, he lied about his involvement. But, when the authorities offered his friends a deal—implicate him and you’ll receive lighter sentences—they did it. He received more prison time than any of his old friends—the same friends he left the home of his new job to visit on a regular basis.
Gone was his job with its millionaire salary (he was now defaulting on other financial commitments after paying for legal fees). Gone was his popularity. He went from being a success story in his old neighborhood, his college, and his new job, to being hated.
Describing the time leading up to his fall, he told the interviewer, "I just reached the point in my career where I just totally lost touch with my Lord and Savior. And I thought I could do it on my own. And I couldn't."
A lot of people have very strong opinions about Michael Vick. He’d be the first to tell you that he participated in and supported some terrible things. In a recent interview (the one quoted from above with James Brown on 60 Minutes), he said he deserved to lose it all.
But what he didn’t deserve was the judgment he got from others.
Michael Vick’s crime was horrendous—he killed dogs and facilitated brutal dog fights. But within a matter of weeks, he not only faced losing his job, his friends, and his all of his money—he also faced the judgment and scorn of the whole world.
Vick was one of the NFL’s most recognizable players. On the field, his controversial style of playing football drew praise and criticism—but even though he had some detractors, he was never hated. When the details of his crime emerge, people wrote terrible, at times unspeakable things, about him.
The Bible has a lot to say about judgment. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (, NIV). Yes, the Bible also says a lot about justice too. But praising the process of seeing justice being served is different than enjoying watching a person lose everything. The justice system is a solemn instrument—if anything, it showcases not just the crimes that tear people apart, but the one thing that we all have in common: our humanity, our flaws.
Celebrating in someone else’s suffering isn’t just sad—it’s wrong.
The Gospel, on the otherhand, is a story of redemption. It’s the story of God looking at all the terrible things we’ve all done and choosing to show us mercy. “The heart [of man] is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (). We all deserve justice and punishment for the things we’ve done. Instead, we’ve received grace.
Last season Michael Vick signed with another NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles, and he has been met with both cheers and jeers. Yes, his punishment was warranted. Yes, he got what he “deserved”. But Christians, more than anyone else, should understand that it’s not about getting what you deserve. It’s about getting what you don’t deserve—grace and forgiveness.
I’m not a fan of the Eagles, but last week, Michael Vick put on one of the greatest performances by an NFL quarterback ever, throwing for four touchdowns, and rushing for two more. In front of millions of viewers on Monday Night Football, Vick proved that he still had the talent to perform at the highest level—and I was cheering for him. Not just Michael Vick the football player, but Michael Vick the man. Michael Vick, the guy trying to get his life straight. The guy who is a child of God—a God who decided to show all of his children mercy.
Thank God we all don’t get what we deserve. Instead, we all get second chances. We all get grace.
We all get a chance for redemption.
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