The Wideness of God’s Mercy

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failing
Have such kindly judgment given.

After being at the prison, I felt forlorn. The chaplain had called me out for something, then he had called out one of the men in our group for something, then the deputy warden had called the director of our program out for something…. There were legitimate reasons for all of these instances, but I was still left feeling sad and somewhat helpless.

There isn’t much compassion in a prison, if any. There are strict rules and a rigid hierarchy. If you or someone you are responsible for doesn’t act appropriately, you will hear about it. Explanation doesn’t matter. You were wrong. That’s it. Change your behavior or there will be serious if not dire consequences.

Practically speaking, this is the way it needs to be. Otherwise, there would be mayhem. There are options of course, other ways to institutionally respond to criminal behavior, but this is what we have created. This is prison culture in America. It’s the nature of the beast.

After leaving the prison, as I was sifting through my feelings, the song, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” came to me. It helped me rise above the sadness that I felt and restored my sense of purpose. It helped me to return to myself and the broad reality of God.

Upon reflection, this experience demonstrates why ministry is so important. Ministry in general and prison ministry in particular. If we didn’t go to share God’s love and mercy with these men who are incarcerated, they would probably get buried in the loneliness, powerlessness and hopelessness that is prison. If I didn’t go, I would probably get buried in the same. I need reminded of God’s love and mercy, so I don’t become too narrow in my life and living.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measures of the mind
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more simple,
We should take heed of God’s word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.

Song text written by Frederick William Faber; quoted from Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal.

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