If you did not know the source of this quote already, you might be hard-pressed to guess it. This was said by Stanley “Tookie” Williams, two weeks before he was executed in California in 2005 for four 1979 murders he committed while the apparent leader of The Crips gang in Los Angeles. Though he vehemently proclaimed his innocence in these deaths to the very end, he freely admitted that drugs, robbery, gang- violence and other crimes were very much a part of his life before prison. Redemption, as he understood it, “is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one’s religious background. It’s accessible for everybody. That’s the beauty about it” (interview with Amy Goodman, WBAI). Williams, who became a prolific author of anti-gang books while on death row, has left behind enough writing to indicate he did not have a biblical understanding of redemption, which is truly tragic because the ideas quoted are certainly biblical.
The word “wretched” is used “of a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state” (New Oxford American Dictionary, online). The New Testament uses the word twice. Interestingly, the first time it is used by one who was all-too-aware of his wretchedness, but who rejoiced at the possibility of redemption (Rom. 7:24-25). The second time it is used by a church, Laodicea, who didn’t know they were wretched but were told by Christ they were (Rev. 3:17). A form of the word is also used in another place, where Christians struggling with worldliness are told to be wretched over their sinful lifestyle (Jas. 4:9, see ESV). The common thread between these verses is that wretchedness is related to redemption. One must recognize their unfortunate state if they hope to be redeemed.
One of the great ironies of life is that so many are racked with guilt but are also skilled in justifying and defending the very behavior that produces it. Many others rest in their confident belief that they are, overall, good and moral people who don’t really need redemption. To deny or rationalize the sin in our life will cause our most imposing problem to remain unresolved. To humble ourselves and admit our wretchedness apart from Christ can lead us to redemption. It doesn’t matter your race, color, income level, or background. Redemption is tailor-made for the wretched!