There were three things our friend Dan loved (besides his wife): a good steak, a good beer and prison.
Dan was a big guy, East Coast with a booming voice, a doctorate in sociology and a law degree. He settled in the Pacific Northwest and lived two blocks from where we lived.
After we moved back to the Midwest, Dan would fly his small plane cross country to D.C. on business a couple times of year, stopping in flyover country to refuel and spend the night.
The small Oregon town he still lived in wasn’t big on red meat, so whenever Dan came to Indianapolis he insisted on taking us out to some of the best steakhouses.
We did not object.
We’d be seated at a fine restaurant, breaking into a warm loaf of bread or enjoying salads, when Dan would boom, “Did I tell you I’ve been to prison again?”
Inevitably, this got the attention of surrounding tables and all the servers. For the rest of the evening, we would have marvelous attentive service.
Dan used to joke that, as a lawyer, after he put men in prison, then he’d go share his faith with them. He did, and far more. He helped with legal matters, transitioning back into communities and securing employment.
The last time we saw Dan, he wanted to tell us about a prisoner with whom he’d been working.
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to know.”
The stories behind the prisoners were often grisly.
Perturbed, he pounded the table, raised his voice another decibel and said, “What? You think God can’t save a guy who did something unthinkable?”
In the ensuing silence, I realized our friend wasn’t just asking about a guy in prison, he was asking about himself, me, everyone in the entire world who has ever crossed a line big or small. It was a test of theology: Can the arms of God ever fall short?
He asked for the same reason I sometimes ask myself—because there are simply days when grace seems too good to be true.
I said, “No, Dan. God can save anybody. He can save a guy in prison; He can save me and He can save you.”
He relented on the details of the crime because I’d leveled the playing field.
The truth is, we were all once sealed behind a wall of wrongdoing. Then on a Good Friday, long ago, that wall was broken down when Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried and three days later rose again.
This week, Christians around the world celebrate that empty tomb, the life that conquered death, shattered the wall of separation, and set all of us prisoners free.
Dan quit flying and stayed close to home as his wife battled cancer. She was a dear friend from my early mom years. She was a fighter, but the cancer won. One month after she died, Dan died at home, suddenly and unexpectedly. They’ll be celebrating, too. Not in this world, but in the next, the one far beyond human reach and imagination.