Have you been following the story of Brian Banks?
Banks was a high school football standout when a female friend falsely accused him of rape. His lawyer convinced him to plead guilty, saying he would never get a fair trial, and Banks gave up the pigskin for the penitentiary until years later, his accuser attempted to friend him on Facebook and admitted she had lied. As truth unfolded, Banks was released from prison and fully exonerated, but his life seemed to be forever off track.
The young man has been doing a series of interviews as his story continues to develop, and the one question most reporters want answered is: Are you going to file charges against your accuser? Are you going to go after her?
His answer is always no. And that baffles most of the modern media.
This woman trashed his reputation. She crushed his football dreams. He had been recruited by USC before the incident but had now fully missed his college years; the pros would be even more unlikely now. He had spent the prime years of his life, not to mention the prime of his opportunity, behind bars for a crime he never committed and now, he had the proof that she had done him wrong and he wasn't going to pay her back for all she'd done to him? He has no inclination whatsoever to make her pay for everything her lies had cost him?
What he says about it is this, according to a recent interview on 60 Minutes. He says, basically, that he wants to focus on getting his life back. He wants to focus on rebuilding himself. He wants to focus on grabbing hold of whatever opportunity is out there for him right now and moving himself forward. He wants to live his life now that he's got the chance to, and he considers any revenge or retaliation or even rightful retribution a distraction from the open pastures in front of him.
That is grace.
There's something about the wrongly accused. There's something about the innocent. It seems they are always more focused on taking their chances than taking their revenge.
It's true about Banks, but he's not the only one. Just the most recent. Maybe the most prominent, lately. You give an innocent man some time (double meaning intended), and he comes to see his own guilt. That recognition doesn't break him; it humbles him and he emerges a better man.
I'm thinking of Andy from the Shawshank Redemption. At one point late in the movie, he's sitting in the prison yard ruminating about prison life and he comes to this conclusion, "Whatever wrong I've done, I've paid for it and then some." An innocent man who has served just less than 20 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit, and he's sitting in the prison yard talking about his guilt. A few scenes later, he escapes Shawshank prison and what does he do?
He lives his dream. He runs away to Mexico and goes after the opportunity that lies before him. He has the chance now to do this, and he takes it. He doesn't waste his time going after those who wrongly imprisoned him.
That is grace, too.
It's not grace for the guilty; it is mercy for them. It is grace for life as we know it, grace for our opportunities, and grace for ourselves. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in an innocent man wrongly condemned.
We are all innocent men. I am an innocent woman. Not because I have done no wrong but because my God has seen fit to declare me innocent by the power and the grace of His blood. I have served my time, and some days, it feels like I'm still serving it. And given all that time, I've come to know one thing for certain: my guilt. Whatever I've done, I've paid for. And maybe then some. And maybe not enough.
But I've been exonerated. I have been released from prison and set free. The question is, as it is that faces each of us, what do we do now that we have chance? How now do you live if you know you are innocent?
The world says take it back. The world says get even. Common logic says to go after the guilty and condemn them, as they have condemned you. But what do you get for all that hatred, all that vengeance, all that self-righteous vindication? More lost years.
That's not what I want.
I want to take my chances as they come. I want to get to doing things that I had to put off. I want to get to living this life as I was intended to live it, knowing the trap of the guilty man and the breath of fresh air of the innocent. I want to live my dream, to go after the opportunities that are right in front of me. I want to take accountability for my life instead of trying to pay off the account. I want nothing to stand in the way of the open pastures in front of me, myself included.
That's grace. Not for the world that has screwed me over; it is mercy for this world. But that is grace for life as I know it, life as it could be, and life as it was designed to be in me. It is grace for everything God intended in me, and I am determined to live by grace.
It is the grace of the innocent. There's just something about an innocent man.
Don't believe me? Ask the Man on the Cross.
**It has recently been reported that after a few opportunities last season fell short, Brian Banks hit the gym and worked even harder on getting his body back in football shape. He has signed a deal with the Atlanta Falcons this off-season. There is no word, news, or update on his accuser. Imagine that.