May 18, 2006

Guilty as Charged

I had just graduated from Andrews Academy, and I was trying to come up with enough money to attend Andrews University in the fall. A friend of mine suggested that we paint barns for the Farmer’s Co-op in central Indiana that summer. The idea became a plan, and we started our short painting career.

We left the Berrien Springs area about 5:00 every Monday morning that summer and drove my car to the barn-painting grounds of Indiana. We worked all week, sleeping in a makeshift apartment each night, and Friday afternoon about 3:00 we headed home to Michigan. During our long, hard week we didn’t shave, and several colors of paint were stuck to our skin and hair. By Friday afternoon our paint overalls looked pretty scruffy, and we needed baths in a bad way. By August we needed haircuts as well.

Somebody’s Watching
One Friday afternoon we had to finish up a few details, so we got a late start home. Being teenagers, we figured we could make up the time on the road. We were heading north on U.S. Highway 31, where we could watch the road a mile or more ahead. We had our eye on a particular traffic light, and it became obvious that at our current speed we’d need to stop at the light. The other option, of course, was to go much faster in order to “beat” the light. You can guess which I chose.

With our speed increasing, it appeared we were going to barely make it through. As we did, the two of us let out a victory cheer. Unfortunately, our celebration was short-lived. One of the cars we passed at the intersection pulled in behind us, and lights and sirens came on. The speed limit through that intersection was 45 miles per hour. My car had gone through at 85.

1514 page28 The officer who pulled us over stepped out of his unmarked cruiser and started asking questions: “Do you know how fast you were going?” “Did you see the speed limit sign?” “Do you know what it says?” “Where are you going?” “Why are you in such a hurry?” “Why are you in Indiana?” “Aren’t there any barns in Michigan that need to be painted?” “Where are you planning to go to college?” “Isn’t Andrews University a Christian college?”

Then the officer attempted to help me realize the seriousness of my predicament: “Son, you have out-of-state tags and registration, you have an out-of-state driver’s license, and you were going almost twice the speed limit. The fine is going to be well over $100.”

He continued: “Even if you had the money to pay the fine, I can’t take your money without going through the court, which closed 30 minutes ago.”

What Now?
The officer went back to his patrol car and stayed there for a rather long time. Finally, he came back to my window and abruptly said, “Follow me to the trooper post.”

“Yes, sir,” was all I could say.

As we neared the post, squad cars were approaching from many directions. Does he think I am so notorious that he needs all of these officers to help arrest me? I wondered.

Inside the building it looked somewhat like a Sabbath school classroom, with a semicircle of 21 officers at one end of the room and a judge’s bench at the other. My arresting officer was quite friendly under the circumstances, giving us a tour of the room with its photographs and trophies. Then the room became silent as the elderly judge walked in. My arresting officer smiled toward the old man. Speaking to the arresting officer, I said, “The judge looks like he’s 90 years old.”

“He is,” he said with a smile and a nod.

Thinking I had made some points, I asked, “Where did you find a judge at six o’clock?”

Still smiling, the officer said, “He’s my dad; he’s doing me a favor.”

So much for points, I thought.

The judge got right down to business. He asked, “Is there a Mr. Thomas Candy in the room?”

Questions for Reflection

1. When have you “gotten off easy” when someone could have “thrown the book at you”?

2. In what ways is this story similar to the judgment that Christians face? In what ways is it different?

3. In what ways does forgiveness alter our behavior? Why is the change not always permanent?

4. What must we be prepared to do if we want to forgive as God forgives us?

Raising my hand, I said, “Yes, I’m Thomas Candy.”

He read me my rights and asked, “How do you plead?”

“Guilty,” I said. In the presence of 21 troopers, the arresting officer, and the judge, it seemed like a bad time to lie.

As soon as I answered, the judge’s gavel came down and he announced his verdict. “Pay the court $160 or spend 60 days in jail.”

I was devastated. I was having a hard time taking it all in when I timidly said, “I have nothing to pay with.”

My friend stepped forward with his payroll check for $168, which had not yet been cashed. In my head I grasped hopefully, Would he really do that for me? Maybe this is going to have a happy ending after all. He laid the check in front of the judge.

In an instant the judge brought his gavel down with finality. “The court does not cash or accept third-party checks.” With that he abruptly got up and left the room; he was finished and, evidently, so was I.

Grace for the Guilty
Standing there, I was expecting a bailiff to take me away. I reached into my pocket and fished out my car keys to give to my friend. But I stopped when I noticed my arresting officer swiftly make his way to take his place in the judge’s seat. As soon as he sat down, 21 state troopers stood up and came toward the bench. The first few politely excused themselves as they passed me. As I stepped to the side they formed a straight line in front of the judge’s bench.

The first officer in line had dark glasses in one shirt pocket and a pack of cigarettes in the other. From his intimidating muscles I could tell he was a weight lifter. “Are you going to Andrews University?” he asked.

Confused, I said, “Yes.”

“Isn’t that a Christian college?” he continued.

“Yes,” I said timidly.

My arresting officer pulled out a record book, and 21 troopers took out their wallets, signed IOUs in that record book, and with their own money they cashed that payroll check so I could go home. Too stunned for words, I realized I was free.

Several thousand years ago God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit made an agreement, a contract; they wrote a check to take care of our sin problem. Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ cashed that check on Calvary so you and I could go home.

Perhaps this story will bring people closer to our saving Christ, and we will see His desire for us to accept His ample salvation and be saved.

Thomas Candy lives in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he has served as an elder, deacon, Sabbath school superintendent, and Sabbath school teacher in his local church.