Skip to comments.Amazing Grace: The Story of Ashley Smith
Posted on 03/26/2005 2:27:06 PM PST by TFFKAMM
She went out for cigarettes.
That's my favorite detail of the story of Elizabeth Ashley Smith. This was not a noble calling; it wasn't even a noble errand. But the craving for nicotine at 2 o'clock in the morning led Smith into the loaded gun of one Brian Nichols, a man who had already raped one woman and murdered four men. Acccording to Smith, Nichols forced her into her apartment, tied her up, put her in the bathtub and told her "I'm not going to hurt you if you just do what I say."
What would you do under those circumstances? Scream? Panic? Beg? But at that point, something else intervened. Smith actually communicated with her murderous captor. She says she saw him not as a monster but as a human being. She talked with him. She told her own story. How her former husband had been stabbed in a petty dispute and had died in her arms, how she had then developed a drug habit, had been caught for speeding and drunk driving, arrested for assault, and ceded custody of her young daughter to her own mother. She showed him her own wounds as a human being. And she saw through the terrible crimes this man had committed to the wounded soul beneath.
It would be politically correct to describe this encounter as a spiritual one. But it seems to me that it was more than that. It was, in the minds and souls of both human beings, an encounter with God. Smith's weapon was a hugely popular book, "The Purpose Driven Life," by Rick Warren, an unabashedly Christian guide to making it through life's highs and lows by constantly asking what God has intended for you. The book is indeed a powerful one - precisely because it insists on the notion that God knows all of us intimately - especially sinners. Smith says she read from Chapter 33, which centers on the role of Christian service, on the idea that in every moment there is a chance to serve others. "You can tell what they are by what they do," is one of the chapter's inscriptions from Matthew's Gospel.
Smith, blessed by what can only be called grace, saw this terrifying early morning in suburban Atlanta as one of those opportunities. Warren writes in that chapter: "Great opportunities to serve never last long. They pass quickly, sometimes never to return again. You may only get one chance to serve that person, so take advantage of that moment." Smith did. By her own account, she talked to him, made breakfast, told him her story, listened. And as she revealed her own openness to grace, so, apparently, did he. "He told me I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ, and God had led him to me," Smith said. Maybe he was right.
We latch onto this story not just because it's a riveting end to a high-stakes manhunt. We find ourselves transfixed and uplifted by the sordid ordinariness of it all. He was a rapist and a murderer. She was tied in a bath-tub, clinging to the wreckage of a life that was barely afloat. One was a monster; the other a woman unable to care for her own five-year-old, looking for cigarettes in the dark. And out of that came something beautiful. He saw his own purpose: to serve God in prison, to turn his life around, even as it was saturated in the blood and pain of others. She saw hers: to make that happen. These people weren't saints. Grace arrives, unannounced, in lives that least expect or deserve it.
I say this as a believer. The crimes of Nichols are inexcusable. The serenity of Smith is close to inexplicable. But the message of the Gospels is that God works with the crooked timber of human failure. This was an exceptional moment of redemption. But every day, we have smaller, calmer chances to turn another's life around, to serve, to listen. How often do we simply not see what is in front of us? How often do we believe that the world's evils - from terrorism to crime to emotional cruelty - are beyond our capacity to change? Or that there is no one in front of us whom we can serve? Smith and Nichols' story is a chastening reminder that we may be wrong.
There's a line in a Leonard Cohen song that has always stayed with me. It kept me going in a bleak moment in my own life, when I thought, as we all sometimes do, that I couldn't see how good could come out of the dreck I had turned my life into. "Forget your perfect offering," Cohen advises. "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." Happy Easter.
I'll be darned. Who'd have expected this from Andrew Sullivan? From a televangelist, sure, but from Andrew Sullivan? It just goes to prove the point he argues in this essay, I guess.
I'm sending this one to my list.
To not repent of sin and yet claim Christ as your Savior is to defile the gospel you claim as your own.
To whom are you referring: Nichols, Smith, Sullivan? All of the above? All of mankind?
Could not have said it better myself.
"The Angel of Atlanta"
"I say this as a believer. The crimes of Nichols are inexcusable. The serenity of Smith is close to inexplicable. But the message of the Gospels is that God works with the crooked timber of human failure."
That would be each and everyone of us.
Sullivan. The other two sound like they do repent of sin. The gospel isn't about God changing His mind about sin. It is about us repenting and turning to Him in faith. You can't get there without repentance. Jesus said that unless we repent we will perish.
However, for Sullivan to call himself a believer while still unrepentantly practicing a sinful "lifestyle" is, shall we say...not the best way to proclaim the Gospel.
Hadn't heard that, but I like it :) Very true!
Not only is it not the best way, it is a couterfeit gospel. Jesus didn't die to change God's heart. He died to change our hearts.
Excellent point, my FRiend! Very true
I was only employing a little understatement there, not wanting to move this thread toward a discussion of the author's perverse behavior.
Ashley Smith also received About $62,000.00 in reward money this week along with many other offers that should help her further down her road of life. After watching the Fulton County Sherriffs office act like Barney Fife during the early Mayhem. The Ashley Smith story was the perfect closing to a dreadful day in Georgia.
The sad note is, Ashley must now pay taxes on her reward money. I'm just glad this Angel survived to live and more than likely help many others with their poor choices in life. I love you Ashley and wish GLTY every day.
Give him credit for being a believer, but a slackard and rationalizer for not having the will power to do as he claims to believe. Homosexuality is a grave sin. Some of the things I've done-- and more of the things I've neglected to do-- may be lesser sins, but even sinners may be believers.
Christ came not to save the sinless, but to show the way for the sinful.
God works in mysterious ways. Yes, Sullivan is apparently still an active and unrepentent homosexual, but this article suggests to me that he may yet find his way back home.
Oscar Wilde died repentent, and his earlier work shows a similar mixture of sin and grace, IMHO.