Our response and thinking of ‘big sinners’ like Ariel Castro, Kermit Gosnell and the men responsible for Auschwitz says a lot about us and our hearts.
Ariel Castro kept three women imprisoned for more than ten years, raped, abused, and when they were impregnated, induced miscarriage through beatings or starvation. He pled guilty to 937 counts of rape, kidnapping and aggravated murder, and was sentenced to life without chance of parole, + 1,000 years. He committed suicide (supposedly) in prison 1 month later.
Kermit Gosnell carried out abortions in the worst way possible, taking liberty to kill by severing the backbone of live babies with scissors (among many other methods), ridiculous dosages of anaesthesia to sedate and numb, harming so, so, many women and children – and yes they are children – in ways that I cannot even begin to describe. There’s no shortage of gruesome photos and painful testimonies online that if even 10% are true, should make you lose faith in humanity. He was sentenced to life without chance of parole.
I don’t think I need to begin on Hitler’s men, and what they propagated.
Evil. All evil; and even the Western media, that doesn’t generally like that word, had no hesitation to use it to describe the crimes.
But how do we, as Christians, look at people like Castro and Gosnell? Jonathan Parnell asks, ‘Do we stand at a distance — across the divide as beings fundamentally different than him — looking at this story and saying, “God, thank you that I am not a monster like this man”? Or do we stop? Do we bow our heads in sincerest sobriety, and pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner — capable of crimes the same as this man if my sin went unchecked and unrestrained by your grace”?’
In other words, do we recognise that we are not fundamentally different? The last episode of Breaking Bad aired yesterday (my Facebook page was full of comments like ‘I don’t have access to a TV, so if anyone tells me what happens, I will unfriend you’), and this article summarises the lesson Christians should learn from it, that ‘Walt didn’t become broken—Walt was already broken. Broken on the inside by pride, lust for power and greed, all of which was neatly hidden away until circumstances brought the inner being to light. So Walt wasn’t a bad person because he manufactured narcotics; he manufactured narcotics because he was a bad person, and the long-term effects of unrepentant sin gradually harden him into a ruthless psychopath.’
King David is called ‘a man after God’s own heart’ – what an honour. There are many reasons for this, as evidenced in David’s life, but I like to think that one of the key reasons is Psalm 51:4 ‘Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight.’ What rubbish, we say, and we would be right. David has sinned against, at first count, (1) his soldiers, when he wasn’t at the frontline with them, but strolling along the rooftop at midday, (2) Bathsheba, by lusting for her, (3) Uriah, whose wife he slept with and who he killed off indirectly, (4) his officials, whom he corrupted to have Uriah killed off.
But David recognised something important – that the biggest person we sin against is always God. And sinning against an eternal all-powerful God means an eternal consequence we cannot fight against, and that our offence is as big as it could possibly get. As much as we think that our white lies, our viewing of online pornography, our bitterness against one another, our anger, our secret desires – well these don’t hurt anyone! Certainly not as much as those people (Gosnell, Auschwitz instigators, Castro) did. But they have offended God, as have we. And so, in many ways, we are the same as those people. Evil.
John Stott says, ‘Before we see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.’ How true.
So do we recognise that we are sinful? Not that we have committed sin, but that deep down inside, we are pitch black. We are sin, and we would continue to be, if not for the grace of God. (Thank God that He causes us to be born again, giving us new hearts and new minds.)
Russell Moore writes, ‘The Gosnell case is horrific. It ought to revolt us and to turn our stomachs and to shock our consciences. But Kermit Gosnell’s criminality is one of degree, not of kind. Left to ourselves, we would all be given over the kind of cruelty and rage he displayed. Our hope, and his, cannot be in simply evading consequences. After all, the worst consequence facing Kermit Gosnell is not that he be executed or imprisoned. The worst consequence facing Kermit Gosnell is that he be handed over to being Kermit Gosnell.’
When we sing, thank You Lord for the cross, have we nailed our sin on the cross and agreed with God on our sinfulness? Because the gospel is not just about happily accepting it so that we can escape the consequences of the petty things we did in the past, so that we’re ‘safe’. We first need to recognise that our sin deserves death. Have I seen that? Have I agreed with God? Have I recognised that there is absolutely nothing I can do to save myself, because I have deeply offended the Greatest Person it is possible to offend, which means I will need to face the Greatest Consequences that exist? ‘Justification isn’t a matter of waving away consequences. It’s a matter of self-crucifixion, of embracing the judgement of God and agreeing with his verdict. And, in Christ, it’s a matter of being joined to another, one against whom no accusation can stand.‘, says Moore.
And then we read of this: of Hitler’s men who were converted before their executions. Is our response – What? These men, responsible for killing so many thousands of people, are going to get off scot-free and walk the streets of Heaven with me? (My response for a while.) Because that reveals even more, that we believe that our being offended is greater than God being offended, that we think they deserve eternal punishment even while God declares, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ (Rom 8:1). Are we scandalised that they will be our siblings for eternity? And yet the writer says, ‘The scandal of Christianity is not that these men went to heaven; it is that God loved them so much that he was willing to die to get them there.’ We are quick to accept that Jesus would love us and die for us, but them?
It all boils down to this; do we recognise our own sinfulness? Have we petitioned God daily to let us not fall into the vicious downward spiral of sin – ‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’ – that could potentially lead us to be future Gosnells and Hitlers and Castros? Have we thanked God for every day He holds us firmly in His hand, for the people He has placed in our lives to remember Him and His grace? Do we read Romans 1:18-32 and be sober, recognising that one way God’s wrath is poured out is to give us over to our sin, and be amazed at His grace, and cling to the cross with all we have, because the cross is all we have?
Maybe then, we can say (and mean it), together with Hitler’s man as he died, ‘I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins.’
The dying thief rejoiced to see,
That Fountain in his day,
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sin away.