Formations 02.07.2016: Accepting the Promise of Freedom

Isaiah 54:1-10

For nearly 34 years, Gregory Diatchenko knew that he would die in prison after he was found guilty of committing murder at the age of 17. Sent to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole, he had to resign himself to the fact that he would never be free. But in 2013, a Supreme Court decision laid the groundwork to outlaw life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders. This past December, after twelve months of good behavior in a lower-security prison, he was allowed to serve the rest of his life sentence on parole. After knowing he would be in prison until his death, he found himself free.

Diatchenko now faces a different problem: How do you truly accept your freedom after spending most of your life as a prisoner?

“Here I am. I had this opportunity, this blessing. This court ruling that opened the door for me. I feel guilty.” In a reflection for The Marshall Project’s “Life Inside” series, Diatchenko remarks that he doesn’t really feel capable of accepting his new life. After all, he hadn’t done anything to earn his freedom. He still worries about his future, knowing that even the most minor misstep—like going into a store on his way home from work, or introducing himself to a stranger—can send him right back to prison. In a way, he still feels like he has no future.

He also worries he will never be anything more than a convict. “I have that blemish on me. Once a prisoner, that’s there forever. No matter what you do, no matter how good you do. It’s just always there,” he says. After 34 years in a cell, he wonders if society will ever accept him again, but more importantly, if he will ever be able to think of himself as free.

Greg Diatchenko’s case might sound extreme, but so does the Israelites’ case that we’ll study this week. Israel has been abandoned by God, their maker and deliverer. How can they begin to “forget the shame of [their] youth” after receiving this blessing (v. 4)? Unlike Diatchenko, Israel is not put on parole. Instead, God makes a promise that God’s “faithful love won’t shift from you, and my covenant of peace will not be shaken” (v. 10). Israel’s future is no longer unsure, even though they have been disgraced. How can they accept God’s forgiveness and mercy and truly feel like God’s chosen people once more? The freedom God offers is more than any freedom our justice system could ever promise. When we deserve punishment for our wrongdoings, how can we also know that we are much more than our failures?

“Why it’s Hard to be a Lifer Who’s Getting out of Prison”, 4 December 2015, (Accessed 25 January 2016).


• Think of a mistake you’ve made in the past that you know you were guilty of. What were the consequences?
• When have you felt you deserved God’s mercy? When have you felt you deserved punishment for your actions?
• When is it hard to accept mercy and forgiveness in your life?
• When is it hard to enforce mercy and forgiveness on the lives of those around you?
• What can you do to truly accept God’s faithfulness?
• What can you do to show God’s faithfulness to others who have suffered disgrace?

Reference Shelf


ancient Babylon_c_smDuring the Exile the Jewish faith was strongly challenged. The Babylonian gods who had apparently defeated the God of Israel and built a huge empire seemed more worthy of worship than the God of Israel (Isa 46:1-2, 9). Some of the exiles even felt that the Exile was caused by their neglect of the more powerful gods (Jer 44:15-19). Even the exiles who clung to their faith in God wondered why Judah had been punished severely (Ezek 18:25) and if Yahweh would ever again be their God (Isa 63:19; Ezek 37:11).

Jewish faith responded powerfully to the challenges. God was the only deity who existed (Isa 45:5); God still ruled history. The Exile was a just punishment upon Judah for its idolatry and disobedience (Jer 7:30-34; Ezek 22:17-22) and as such prefigured the “Day of the Lord.” God’s mercy was also evident. The land of Judah now enjoyed the Sabbath years that had never been celebrated (2 Chr 36:20-21) and the possibility lay open for a new covenant between God and the Israelite people (Jer 31:31-34). In the absence of a temple, tradition and Law became the foci of the Jewish faith (Neh 8:1-8) and the collecting and editing of the sacred writings became imperative. Thus from the calamity and difficulty of the Exile came a faith that could survive and prosper in any nation or circumstance.

Robert C. Dunston, “Exile,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 276.

Michelle Meredith is a graduate of Mercer University, where she was the editor for literary and arts magazine The Dulcimer. She taught third and fourth grade in Mississippi for two years with Teach for America and became even more obsessed with live music and southern food (don’t even get her started on Delta tamales). She loves comedy, board games, roller derby, and hanging out with her dog. She is happy to be back in Macon, Georgia as the associate editor of Formations.


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