Tonight I sat amid the buzz at the rescue mission check-in desk, surrounded by, among other things, outdated computer equipment, a newly admitted AIDS victim, and a box of complementary PBJs for the homeless. Entropy was doing her dirty work, as usual. The cheap stud in the right ear of the new resident had begun to corrode, revealing it to be the cheap imitation of a precious metal that it was. The jelly in the PBJs had soaked through the bread thoroughly (rendering them entirely useless, in my opinion). And next to me sat a man whose immune system would soon be rendered entirely useless as well. He’s just one of a few billion of us showing our scars left from the Fall. Here you see the brokenness of humanity a bit more clearly. Men made in the image of God, robbed of every last vestige of dignity. They speak to me with their eyes on the ground. They’ve given and given to a habit that keeps taking and taking and taking. They trade life for a walking death. They trade the romantic love God created for a quickie with a cheap whore. They trade service to the Creator for bondage to a chemical. They sold their souls in pursuit of joy; now as time plods on and dreams corrode, that joy is revealed to be a cheap imitation of the real thing.
And so it goes. The story here is like the typical plotline in a cheap dime store novel: it’s the same story told again and again, only with new characters and a different setting. Here at Greenville Rescue Mission the story is the same, again and again. A man is born, a sinner. The self-destruct button is activated from day one. He is not righteous, he does not seek for God, he does not do good, there is no fear of God before his eyes. He becomes futile in his thinking and his foolish heart is darkened. He exchanges the glory of the immortal God for cheap substitutes. In the end he gets death, a welcome end this life and a rather unwelcome introduction to the next.
You’ve always got to have a hero in cheap dime store novels. Cowboys work quite well, given the fact a pair of accurately-aimed blazing six-shooters is enough to ward off the worst of villains. Occasionally you’ll get a roving knight, a kung fu master, a gritty bounty hunter, and once in a blue moon, a frighteningly geeky computer whiz. They’re really all the same character. Each dime store novel gives its heroes a different personality (the bounty hunter chugs Jim Beam by the quart and carries a .45 caliber hogleg in his waistband and exudes toughness; the computer geek . . . well, “tough” is not how you’d describe him), but each hero really does the same thing. He flies onto the scene, emptying round after round into the enemy (or hacking into the bad guys’ database), and delivers the afflicted.
Here at Greenville Rescue Mission we preach and sing of a deliverer in the age-old story of bondage and hopelessness. Only the bad guy isn’t an Indian chief or a corrupt government agent. Each victim in each story is captive of his own device. Each man’s enemy is himself. The villain is also the victim, dead in his transgressions and a slave to lawlessness.
Enter Christ, with a promise of freedom and the goods to back it up. He has come to call sinners to repentance. He storms onto the scene ready to deliver the afflicted. He lifts up the crushed and contrite in spirit. He gives a new life, freeing man from sin and himself. He trades in mourning for dancing and filthy rags for righteousness and the old nature for a new one. He brings what the victims could never provide for themselves: liberty and joy. It’s a recurring pattern. Affliction, deliverance, freedom. I get to watch it unfold at the check-in desk.