I know that many are tired of the saga of Stanley “Tookie” Williams, but real life—or Whoever--sometimes intervenes and puts more thoughts into the minds of people like me.
I visited an old friend today—Victor is his name. As it happens, Victor is former member of Crips Gang of Terrorists. About my age, Victor has long been reformed and is an honest, hard-working family man now—a barber; he cut my hair. (Of note is that I acted as editor for Victor’s self-published autobiography chronicling his gang days, interesting dubbed The Choices We Make. Victor had seen “Tookie” in those days, and had, of course, known of him; however the former had never had a personal introduction.)
So it was natural that the “Tookie” subject came up; Victor was against the execution for the same reason that many others have been: the concept that a “redeemed” person should be spared the direst of earthly consequences of his/her actions. As a result, the confusion regarding what redemption is and what types of redemption there are re-surfaced, as it has here and in countless other venues.
I didn’t have time to say the following to Victor (who did prison time for his gang transgressions) and I am far less agile verbally than in written form, so I want to put this here.
Simply put, there is earthly redemption and there is heavenly/spiritual redemption.
Any type of redemption involves change: a change in attitude, made manifest by a change in word and in deed. Additionally, an essential component in redemption is the willingness and ability to pay one’s debt to those whom he/she has injured, whether the debt is to an individual or to a deity or to any entity in between.
How does one receive earthly redemption? In various ways, depending upon the injury; it can be something as simple as saying a heartfelt ‘I’m sorry’ or it can be by admitting guilt and submitting to the penalty received from a court of law—by paying the debt to society. Acknowledged in some earthly redemption is this: there are some things for which one can never get equal in this life, there are some things for which an injured party can never be ‘made whole’ again. Murder is one of those things, for obvious reasons.
In the Christian religion, heavenly/spiritual redemption is received by accepting that Jesus Christ has paid all of your (sin) debt for you. The two types of redemption, earthly and heavenly, are mutually exclusive—one cannot take the place of the other and there is no overlap. One can be consequent to the other, but that isn’t the same thing. Therefore, those who argue for giving clemency to a condemned murderer because she has given her life over to Jesus Christ are arguing apples and oranges. If the conversion is true, she has received all of the long-term forgiveness and redemption needed.
Victor noted that Paul, the author of the majority of the New Testament, had been—before the famed Damascus Road conversion--a prolific murderer of Christians and Victor asked me whether Paul had been redeemed. I answered that Paul had not had earthly redemption; had Paul—then Saul of Tarsus--been brought before the earthly authorities for his crimes, he should have been executed, should have paid his earthly debt. But God had other plans—for Paul to pay his spiritual debt by accepting Jesus Christ as propitiator for his—and everyone’s--evil and by becoming the most famous publicist for JC’s sacrificial act. (The fact that Paul had been acting at the behest of the earthly authorities of his homeland when he murdered Christians makes ludicrous the idea of him being executed for those acts. The fact that Paul ended up being martyred for his Christian faith is the height of irony. Both facts are, however, beside the point.)
Whenever a condemned murderer argues that his/her life should be spared because he/she has become a Christian, my askance radar begins to ping. Oh I don’t necessarily doubt that the conversion is sincere, but when such people confuse salvation in the spiritual realm for that from human beings, for that from government entities, it casts doubt on whether they’ve read the Rule Book. What those who use Christianity to argue for clemency for murderers forget is this: we all deserve to die--whether it's for murder or some other sin-debt in the spiritual area.
I wonder whether Karla Faye Tucker (read her story; it’s disgusting and uplifting at the same time), for example, understood Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:21: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.” In other words don’t confuse God with whoever is sitting in the State House.
Conversely, I wonder whether Timothy McVeigh, one of the authors of the notorious 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing had a conversion and actually understood what type of salvation he might be in for. (If you recall, McVeigh refused the mandatory appeals inherent in a death penalty verdict and asked for the verdict to be carried out.) It’s unnerving to contemplate that Timothy McVeigh might have not gone to Hell, but only he and God know whether he asked for heavenly redemption--God does what He wants without consulting you or me. (McVeigh’s prideful words and deeds immediately preceding his execution, however, seem to have sealed his afterlife fate.)
But the point is this: if McVeigh accepted Jesus Christ and asked God for forgiveness for his heinous crimes, then he received it, according to the Rule Book. However--assuming the foregoing is the truth-- the free gift of heavenly redemption had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the earthly penalties which he was compelled to pay for his crimes.
This sort of questioning forces a questioner to ask himself whether he actually believes in the salvation of Jesus Christ for all sins and an afterlife spent in either Heaven or Hell. If the questioner doesn’t believe in this concept, he is merely using his false understanding of what Christianity is to support his position when he excoriates Christians who support the death penalty. If he does believe, then he needs to remind himself that “as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” That passage implies that death is not the end and that judgment is contingent upon whether one has paid his debts or has accepted the “get out of Hell free” card.
Is “Tookie” (or Karla Faye or Timothy) 'square with the house' yet? If it’s the “heavenly house” to which we’re referring, I don’t know and neither do you; we can only say ‘probably’ or ‘probably not.’ Only God knows what was in the hearts of these people when they were executed. But we shouldn’t pretend as if earthly penalties and heavenly ones are related. When we do that, we show our true hand; that we doubt or don’t really believe that there is either a heavenly redemption or a heavenly Judge; that we really believe that humans are the only arbiters of right and wrong and that we—some of us—are merely using our misunderstanding of what Christianity is to attempt to shame Christians into discarding the notion of the Great Judge and into believing that death is the final fate.
Sorry, but that's not in the Rule Book either.
Merry Christmas and celebrate His birth well.