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A Scandalous Grace

randomlychad  —  August 30, 2012 — 7 Comments


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:

Ed Gein

John Wayne Gacy, jr.

Ted Bundy

David Berkowitz

Jeffrey Dahmer

Dennis Rader

James Holmes*

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.

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Jeffrey Dahmer Is In Heaven, But You May Not Make It

     I’ve been traveling around the blogosphere a bit recently, and came across an excellent post on Rachel Held Evans’s blog regarding the eternal fate of Anne Frank. This got me to thinking about salvation, and who does, and does not, “get into heaven.” Honestly, I think we spend entirely too much time and breath wondering about this (and not looking to our own souls). I’m fairly certain that when God said He wasn’t willing that “any should perish, but that all should should come to repentance,” He meant it. And what about Jesus’s own statement about “drawing all men unto me?” Pretty sure He meant that, too. Instead of speculating about who, or who isn’t there, or who will, or won’t, go, it would be far more beneficial for us to take His message out into the highways and byways. That’s our obligation: to share the Gospel. It’s real simple: if the message isn’t received, we move on to the next person, and the next, and the next. We do the proclamation, and leave the reception up to God.
     In all this, it would do us good to remember that “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” Fact is, we never know when one of those seeds we plant will take root, and grow into a saving relationship with Christ. If the Book of Job is any indication, God isn’t really into giving us any more information on His “sovereign plan of the ages” than what He’s already revealed in the Bible. We probably couldn’t understand it anyway. (I realize none of this prohibits us from speculating, from asking questions, from wondering what He’s up to, but if Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes are any indications, it’s not God that’s uncomfortable with our questions, but ourselves). What we already know is that grace isn’t fair, that it isn’t just.
     According to this account, the heinous Jeffrey Dahmer received Christ in prison sometime before he was beaten to death. On the flip side, we’re told that those who fail to forgive, won’t be forgiven themselves. Putting this all together means that the family members, friends—perhaps even ourselves, outraged as we are at his acts—of Dahmer’s victims risk their souls by not forgiving. But Dahmer himself may in fact be in heaven already, because he was forgiven by God in Christ. That is not fair, that is not justice, but it is the scandalous nature of grace. God is no respecter of persons. Think of the thief on the cross, with his eleventh-hour confession: he didn’t live “an effective life for Christ,” but nevertheless found himself in paradise. Thus it seems to me that God will accept all who recognize in their own hearts their need for Him. This may, or may not, take a form that we Evangelicals recognize, but what’s that to us? We are to follow Him. He knows who His sheep are.