How long should a person have to suffer the consequences of his actions?
For some ex-offenders in Singapore, it seems, the Internet has decided that the answer is: forever.
According to a recent report in local media, some of these people are still suffering shame and a loss of reputation after they had paid their dues—in jail time or in fines—because their misdeeds had gone viral when they were first committed. Unlike many other crimes that don’t make it big in the news, these incidents had drawn a lot of attention because they were captured on video or widely reported. Reports and discussion of their rash acts or crimes can still be found online, many years on.
Ironically, the same technology that has contributed to a culture of quick-moving (and quickly-forgotten) news also records deeds (and misdeeds) down for posterity. As a result, some of these ex-offenders have difficulty getting a job or find themselves still being criticised online.
Is this fair? Should they be allowed to move on? Those who say no may argue that these ex-offenders should have considered the consequences of their actions. Besides, how would their victims feel? Can a leopard change its spots?
I wonder, though, how God would see these people. To be sure, they had committed crimes that deserved punishment. But should these misdeeds be remembered?
The Bible is full of stories of sinful, flawed people who were given a second chance—and sometimes a third and fourth, too. Jonah, Samson, David, Peter—all these people and others had messed up badly. Not just any rash act, but disobedience, murder, adultery, betrayal, and more. Some were repeat offenders. Yet when they confessed and repented of their sin, they were not only completely forgiven, but also redeemed to fulfil God’s great purposes.
Micah 7:18–19 offers great comfort to those who have messed up in life. It tells us that God is forgiving as well as holy:
Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin
and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry for ever
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities
into the depths of the sea.
The world and Google may remember what we have done, but how comforting it is to know that God does not. He does not hold our past against us if we confess and repent, but sees only what we can be for Him in the future. When Jesus forgave Peter, He was not interested in recounting Peter’s betrayal of his Lord, but in charging him with the task of looking after His people.
If you’ve come to the Lord repentant and seeking to move on, know that God has forgiven you and can use you for His great purposes. Our God is a God of second chances.
Lord, even though the world may
remember what I’ve done wrong,
I have Your assurance that in Your eyes,
I am forgiven because I have repented.
Give me the strength and courage
to move on and to serve You.
God sees our future, not our past.