James Bain was smiling.
It was a weary but broad smile. It was a smile of relief. He was going home. James Bain was a free man. And the national media was present in Florida to record the event.
In 1974, when he was 19 years old, Bain was convicted for the kidnapping and rape of a nine-year old boy. He was sentenced to life in prison. After serving 35 years behind bars, Bain, now gray-haired and balding, was cleared by DNA evidence. He was 54. Tests showed that he could not possibly have committed the crime.
A judge set him free.
Criminal records revealed that Mr. Bain had served longer in prison than any of the 246 prison inmates previously cleared by DNA evidence. In 1974, DNA testing didn’t exist. Neither did cell phones. So Bain made his first-ever cell phone call upon his release. He called his 77- year old mother to let her know that he was free and that he would see her soon.
One might wonder what went through James Bain’s mind when he first learned that he would go free — or through his heart. Thirty-five years is a long time to sit in prison for a crime you didn’t commit. It’s a big chunk of life. James Bain went to prison as a teenager the year that Richard Nixon resigned as president. Elvis Pressley was still alive. Bain left prison, seven presidents later, as a middle-aged man eligible for membership in the AARP.
James Bain spent three and a half decades of his life in prison as an innocent man.
The American justice system said he had done it. James Bain knew he hadn’t. A court said he was wrong. He knew he was right.
Bain had plenty of time to think –and to feel. He had plenty of time to become bitter and angry and resentful. He had plenty of time to wallow deeply in despair and self-pity. If anyone could claim to be an authentic victim of injustice, it was James Bain. If anyone had the right to be filled with anger it was this man.
As the reporters gathered around him as he walked through the doors of the dark prison into the bright sunshine of freedom, they asked Bain how he felt, what he thought. He smiled and shook his head. “I’m not angry”, he said quietly, “Because I’ve got God.”
Faith makes a difference in every person’s life. For James Bain, faith in God made all the difference.
I don’t know if Bain ever read a Bible during those 35 long years. But if he did, perhaps he came across Psalm 31:7:
“I will be glad in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul.” [NLT, emphasis added].
God knew James Bain was innocent. And God cared.
Maybe Bain read what Peter wrote about Jesus and his suffering:
“He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” [I Peter 2:22-23, NLT].
Jesus, who has been touched fully by the feelings of our own infirmities – who knows our hurts and disappointments; our grief and our sorrows, has left us his example. There is nothing theoretical about anything Our Lord tells us to do.
He has been through it all himself.
When James Bain sat in that prison cell – day after day, week after week and month after month – Jesus was there with him, knowing, understanding and comforting. And when the months turned into long years, Jesus never left James; Jesus never got bored or tired or distracted.
When James cried Jesus wept with him.
One of the most difficult things in the whole world is to suffer injustice quietly. It’s in our nature to lash out, to retaliate, to jump to our own defense and to want to even the score.
We struggle mightily sometimes with our vengeful spirits, fueled by pride and a demand for our own justice.
Jesus would have none of it. The Maker and Ruler of the universe stood in silence before his puny and strutting accusers. The Spirit he displayed is the One he has given us; the Spirit who fills and animates us and wants to control us.
He who had done no wrong “left his case in the hands of God”
That’s where we must leave ours.
It’s likely that no one reading this will ever spend 35 years in prison for something he didn’t do. But perhaps you sometimes feel mistreated, misunderstood or all alone. Maybe you figure there’s no one who sees or appreciates the anguish you’re going through. Maybe you’re living in a private prison that is unknown to anyone but you.
God cares about the anguish of your soul. He knows your heartache and discouragement. He loves you and will go with you through your anguish. He will comfort you. In Jesus, God experienced the suffering of injustice. Leave your case in his hands. God always judges fairly.
He will set you free.
May God bless you and your family.