1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. 4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; 5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. 6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; 7 he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. 8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. 9 For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
Let the Redeemed Say So
by Byron Johnson, Ph.D.
This passage is an important reminder for us to not be reserved in our thankfulness and praise to the Lord for redeeming us. Whether it is liberation from captivity, deliverance from danger, or being rescued from our enemies, we who have been redeemed should not be bashful about expressing our gratitude to God.
Over the last three decades, I have had the good fortune of conducting and publishing many studies of the role of faith in the lives of prisoners. This research has made it possible to show how incarcerated offenders regardless of age, race or criminal record - even those who are serving life sentences with no hope for parole - can experience a profound identity transformation. Lives previously characterized by trauma, regret and anger can be replaced with forgiveness, gratitude, and hope, as well as other virtues or prosocial behavior like humility, accountability and other-mindedness. I have learned a great deal from these redeemed prisoners and so could society at-large. I have witnessed inmates who have studied to become ministers during their incarceration, and then proceed to give their life in service to others. Examples of this service include providing grief counseling to other inmates who have lost loved ones, older prisoners mentoring new converts to Christianity, or inmates providing hospice care to peers who are dying. Indeed, redeemed prisoners are a wonderful expression of Psalm 107:1-9, and are always looking for ways to let others know that they are redeemed and gratefully say so. And redeemed "lifers" - those who will eventually die in prison - are especially likely to frequently and forcefully say so. Compared to the rest of us "free-world" people (those who are not incarcerated), lifers appear to have a more vivid recognition of their own deliverance and redemption, appear to be less distracted with the cares of the world, and appear to be more focused on the goodness, grace, mercy and the steadfast love of God.
In an odd way, those who are incarcerated may have the most occasion for such praise, and perhaps they may be best qualified to appreciate the goodness and mercy of our Lord. Redeemed prisoners from around the world have often told me that the next religious awakening will come from the prisons. I have never sensed that such bold claims were made as boastful or prideful statements, but as authentic proclamations of God's redeemed who are simply compelled to say so. The takeaway point for me? God can use whomever he desires - even prison lifers - to remind us it is proper that those who are redeemed should lavishly praise our Lord. Redeemed prisoners continue to encourage and mentor me in my spiritual walk. I draw inspiration from the joy, hope, purpose, and yes, freedom, that so many have found while being incarcerated. God has rescued them and has given them a true freedom that alluded them on the outside and, unfortunately, continues to allude so many people outside of prison. I owe these friends a special debt for reminding me of what we are instructed to do in Psalm 107: let the redeemed of the Lord say so, and say so especially during this Advent season.
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Byron Johnson, Ph.D.
Byron Johnson, Ph.D., serves as Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University and is the founding director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.
He is a Faculty Scholar in the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University, Senior Fellow with the Witherspoon Institute (Princeton), Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute (Indianapolis), and is a Senior Advisor at the Religious Freedom Institute (Washington, DC). Dr. Johnson is recognized as a leading authority on the scientific study of religion and has done extensive research on the impact of religious education on maximum-security prisoners and the role of faith-based programs on reducing recidivism. He has been the principal investigator on grants from private foundations as well as the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and the United States Institute for Peace. He is the author of more than 200 journal articles, monographs, or books. He is recognized as a leading authority on the scientific study of religion, the efficacy of faith-based organizations, and criminal justice. He is working with the Gallup Organization to design empirical studies exploring religion and spirituality in the world.Behind the Resarch: Dr. Byron Johnson, Baylor ISR