Last month, in the wake of the tragedy in Aurora, I wrote of Evil Wearing A Human Face. I ended by asking for prayer for the victims and their families.
I forgot someone in that request: James Holmes. Who knows what kind of place he’s in that he could do what he did? And what of his family? Imagine what they are going through in the wake of his actions.. . I can’t fathom it. He needs prayer, they need prayer.
Please understand this before I proceed: Mr. Holmes needs to be held accountable for his actions, and is deserving of the justice the court will mete out to him. Romans thirteen clearly admonishes that the government doesn’t bear the “sword” for nought. (Holmes has since been charged with twenty four counts of murder).
But as long as he draws breath, he is never far from redemption.
Recall with me the scene of Christ’s crucifixion: our Lord was hung on a cross between two thieves. They deserved their punishment; one reviled Jesus, the other acknowledged his guilt, asking the Lord to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
What did did Jesus say in response? “It’s too late, you filthy sinner. You had your chance?” No; it was “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Despite being given the death penalty for his crimes, that thief found salvation.
There is a similar hope for James Holmes. Because while the cost is high–Jesus gave his all, and died–the price of admission into God’s kingdom is low:
“Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you shall be saved.” That is nothing other than childlike faith. We need to be praying that Holmes finds such faith in prison. Because, like the thief on the cross, he is likely to receive the death penalty. And while he certainly deserves it, we–the surviving victims, the families of the deceased–need to look to our own souls. Lest amidst the cries for justice, the hurt, the questions, and bitterness take root.
Such soul work takes time, because healing is not an event, but a process. In this case, a very lengthy process, as there are people bereft, families torn apart, a community still grieving. Grief needs its time (“there is a time for weeping”). Somewhere in there, as time and space allow, as the tears give way to reflection, that community will need to grapple with forgiveness. Not for Holmes’ sake, but for its own.
Because forgiveness, while both an event, and a process, begins with an act of the will. It is a choice we make, and is the only cure I know to keep bitterness from taking root. And thereby it frees our souls.
In the midst of the upheaval brought by such a diabolical act, it’s quite easy to forget–in our quest for deserved justice–that we all deserve to die. For we are “born in sin, and shapen in iniquity.” And it was for this–for us–that Jesus died. Remember, please, that “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” That includes:
John Wayne Gacy, jr.
Does that list scandalize you? If it wasn’t scandalous, it wouldn’t be grace–because it was, and is, available (if they had but reached out for it, turned to God) to those men just as it is to us. In fact, by all accounts I’m aware of, Jeffey Dahmer found Jesus in jail before he was killed. Some say Bundy did as well (only time will tell). The one that’s most interesting to me is David Berkowitz: for from every account I’ve read, it seems that each time he comes up for parole, he refuses it. For two reasons:
1) He believes he deserves to be in jail, is remorseful for his crimes; and,
2) He desires to minister God’s grace to other inmates.
That, my friends, is the mark of a humble heart. And if the “Son of Sam” can be by the Son of Man so changed, so can one James Holmes.
In addition to praying for the continued helping of a devastated community, this is what we who call ourselves Christians should be praying for: God’s scandalous grace.
What do you think? Have you been scandalized by grace?
*Caveat emptor: We should be shocked and outraged at the heinous acts committed by these men. All are evil deeds, and are indeed of the evil one. In our shock and outrage we would do well to remember that this is a world at war–we live in enemy-occupied territory. Even the scriptures declare that we do not yet everything under Jesus’ feet. The day is coming. The point of this postscript is this: we ignore the spiritual aspect of evil to our great detriment. Evil is a real, palpable force–a personality–that must be reckoned with. Thankfully, the evil one is nowhere near God’s equal.