April 11, 2011

I Didn’t Mean to be Guilty!

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 (NASB)

My name was called. I slowly rose and moved forward from my seat to the center of the room. “Young lady, how do you plead?” the judge asked. He asked loudly and in plain view of a full albeit silent audience. I was embarrassed beyond words, frightened to the point of extreme trembling and about to be violently ill. The day I dreaded was upon me. This was the moment I had to stand and publicly confess my sin. My heart pounded. My mouth went dry.

I wanted to run home and crawl into the darkest corner of the first closet I could find. Couldn’t they understand it wasn’t really my fault! It was an accident. One that I didn’t intend to happen, or ever dream would happen. Yet, by the letter of the law I was guilty.

How do you plead?” was the question that now echoed in my ears. My response came, slowly and sorrowfully, “Guilty.” I heard this word proceed from my mouth but my mind screamed, “But I didn’t mean to be guilty!”

This was my first experience in traffic court after running a stop sign and causing an accident. I was barely 21. I had just looked down for a split second and wasn’t going fast at all. In fact, I was slowing down to stop at that horrid sign. I knew it was there. But taking my eyes off it, even for a moment, caused me to misjudge my stopping time and WHAM! The next thing I heard was the sound of crunching metal.

I hit my head and was my car was ruined. The other guy’s car was ruined. They gave me a ticket for careless driving. Careless driving! That made me livid! Obviously I’d run a stop sign – that was the ticket I deserved even though I really didn’t mean too! But me - careless, not a chance! I’ll fight this in court. That’s how I felt then but now in court, nerves kicked in and guilty was all I could say. All the while thinking – it really was just an accident. I truly didn’t mean to be guilty.

Fast forward about 17 years. I was making a personal trip from Jacksonville to Panama City. I took a few back roads near Tallahassee where I pushed the speed limit and this time, I did it with full knowledge of my actions.

Note to self: never speed on the back roads near Tallahassee. Soon I discovered a FHP car coming toward me with lights on (I still haven’t figured that out) and announcing over a PA system for me to pull over. So I did. I was caught. I knew I was wrong. This time I meant to be guilty and so I was. With a teenage daughter in the car, I thought – I’d better be a good example of getting caught by ‘fessing up and accepting the consequences.

“Do you know how fast you were going? License and registration, please.” was what the officer said after I stopped and rolled down the window. He was not amused. Me neither, but I was wrong. With a deep breathe, I told him it was definitely my fault and I deserved the ticket. He was not deeply moved by my admission of wrongdoing. He sternly issued me a ticket for going 20 miles over the speed limit. Afterwards, I set the cruise control and humbly proceeded to my destination.

This time I escaped traffic court because now you can pay tickets by mail which is much less demeaning. But I had to attend the dreaded traffic school to keep the points off my record. After I was done, I wished I’d taken the points! It was a horrible class where the instructor wanted us to circle our chairs and talk about “our feelings.” Ugh!

Within this circle of shame, one by one, we had to confess the nature of our crime and profess our guilt. Well, this time I knew I was guilty. I deserved that ticket and I deserved the humiliation that came with it. And I said so. However, I found out that I was the minority in that category.

The class included multiple offenders who knew exactly how to work the system for insurance purposes and they proudly expounded on it. No remorse at all. The lady next to me was there because she tried to out run the police when they attempted to pull her over. Yet, she maintained her innocence boldly. In fact, I was the only person out of nearly 20 people that admitted to guilt and was rightfully there. Everyone else was a victim of another’s mistake. They were either being persecuted by the authorities, didn’t mean to be guilty or were forced into being guilty so it really wasn’t their fault. Can anyone relate?

My first experience was before I met Christ. My second story occurred when I was many years into my walk with the Lord. But in each instance I was guilty. Being a believer doesn’t mean you will never be guilty of sin ever again. But when you give your life to Christ, the Holy Spirit makes it really hard to deny the guilt. The Holy Spirit also gives you the desire and power to confess the guilt and then move on – free and clean.

Friends, we were born guilty. Romans 3:23 plainly tells us in biblical language that no one is perfect. There are no righteous persons among us – see Rom. 3:10. I guess no one means to be born guilty yet we are. Each of us will make mistakes on purpose and then sometimes not on purpose. But guilty is guilty regardless of how you color it. Yet, there is a hope.

Resurrection Sunday reminds us how our guilt was taken away by the shed blood of Jesus Himself. One day my life will end I will stand before The Judge of all creation. He will ask me how I plead. Against the backdrop of His holiness I believe I can only respond “guilty.” But I also believe that as those words come out of my mouth, Jesus Christ will rise and His word will drown out mine in the ears of the Father as He proclaims me INNOCENT. What about you?

Love, Barbara

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