Pablo Escobar killed countless people. As a drug lord that practically invented the Colombian drug industry he is known for barbaric acts of violence and cruelty. At one point the CIA thought
The guy was huge. The guy was horrible. But even in that grossness, I swear there is a hidden lesson. And it starts with something I read in a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine about when they killed Escobar and raided his house:
“Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, arriving after the kingpin had fled, found neat shelves lined with loose-leaf binders, carefully organized by content. They were, says John Coleman, then the DEA’s assistant administrator for operations, ‘filled with DEA reports’ – internal documents that laid out, in extraordinary detail, the agency’s repeated attempts to capture Escobar.
‘He had shelves and shelves and shelves of these things,’ Coleman tells me. ‘It was stunning. A lot of the informants we had, he’d figured out who they were. All the agents we had chasing him – who we trusted in the Colombian police – it was right there. He knew so much more about what we were doing than we knew about what he was doing.’
Coleman and other agents began to work deductively, backward. ‘We had always wondered why his guys, when we caught them, would always go to trial and risks lots of jail time, even when they would have saved themselves a lot of time if they’d just plead guilty,” he says. ‘What we realized when we saw those binders was that they were doing a job. Their job was to stay on trial and have their lawyers use discovery to get all the information on DEA operations they could. They they’d send copies back to Medallin, and Escobar would put it all together and figure out who we had tracking him.’
What does any of that have to do with God? A lot I think.
You see, when I am confronted with my mistakes. When I must face my sin, my first reaction is not to study it and learn from it. My first reaction is to put it in a heavy chest and cast it into the ocean. To jettison it into the deep abyss never to be seen again. And I don’t think that’s right.
Escobar didn’t do that. He made an art out of studying his failures, which is what a man getting arrested really represented to his organization. Instead of running from his mistakes, he pulled them into the light, he examined them and dissected them and vowed never to make that same mistake again.
I’ve read dozens of books that recommend some form of the “write your sins down and then throw away the paper” method to confession. Some even suggest lighting it on fire in a ceremony meant to close the door between you and the past.
The inherent problem is that when we ignore our past, we allow it to be part of our present and our future. We give it the freedom to come trip us up again. We leave ourselves open to making the same mistakes again and again and again.
I am not saying you need to dwell on the past. This is not an invitation to live there. It is an invitation to learn from it. When we are called in Colossians 3:5 to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” I don’t think this is a moment of God giving us a shotgun and a blindfold. He doesn’t call us to just go into our massive warehouse of mistakes and start blasting randomly with the hope that perhaps we will hit something.
On the contrary, I think he gives us a sniper rifle with a laser scope. I think he gives us something precise and deliberate that requires us to thoughtfully and intentionally remove things from our past. I think that the reason we are shown specific things we are to eliminate is that God expects us to be specific.
The reality is that more than likely, the things you struggle with haven’t really changed since you were a teenager. They’ve grown, maybe even evolved, but our core hurt is usually pretty consistent. You might have an affair as an adult, but the seeds for lust were planted when you started looking at porn as a child. You might steal money for work, but the seeds for thievery were planted when you took things out of lockers that weren’t yours in high school. You might lie to your wife, but the seeds for dishonesty were planted when you lied to your mom.
The things we struggle with are usually not new. And one of the reasons we continue to struggle with them is that we refuse to do the difficult work of dealing with them. And it’s difficult because often, it goes a lot slower than we would like it to.
I like the speed God seems to encourage us to use when approaching mistakes. In Psalm 23:5 we see how God calls us to deal our enemies:
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
Do you get the sense that God wants us to eat quickly or remain standing so that we can run at any moment? Why dinner? Why a meal that is traditionally the slowest of the three we eat during a given day?
I think it’s dinner because it’s not fast. I think it’s prepared for us because it’s going to be a multi-course experience. And I think above all, God wants to walk us through the entire thing.
My only word of caution in this idea is not to go it alone. Putting to death your sin or learning from your mistakes can be an incredibly dangerous thing to do if you don’t have a close friend to help. What tends to happen is that when we lay out our temptations to eliminate them, we tend to indulge in them. We transform from executioner to explorer. A friend of mine illustrated this when he recently told me, “I found an old DVD when I was cleaning out my garage and had to check it because I wanted to make sure it was an adult DVD.” Had he invited a friend into the clean out process he would have certainly received counsel such as, “Why do you need to check it? Just throw it away.”
Pablo Escobar was a horrible human being. But hopefully in the midst of all this rambling you’ll find a scrap of an idea and start to think about how it might be time to start to think about a new approach to the mistakes you and I make.