What does it take for a killer to find redemption? Peter Ranscombe turned to fiction to find out
It’s one of the most challenging questions raised by the Christian faith: Can a killer ever find redemption? If Adolf Hitler had professed his faith on his deathbed and confessed his sins then would he have been forgiven? What about Harold Shipman or Fred West or Myra Hindley?
Taking the life of another human being is one of the most heinous crimes. “Do not commit murder” makes it into the Ten Commandments and the Bible is peppered with stories of killers facing judgment, from Cain through to King David.
The book of 1 John says that Cain, being a murderer was “of the evil one”.¹ Leviticus condemns murderers to death, while Revelation condemns them to the lake of fire.² In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus illustrates how repulsive murder is using it for the comparison he is making with anger: “You have heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not commit murder; anyone who does will be brought to trial.’ But now I tell you: … if you call your brother a worthless fool you will be in danger of going to the fire of hell.” ³ So it all seems perfectly clear: Murder is extreme wickedness and murderers are the lowest of the low.
However, such a view is a long way from the inclusive love that Jesus practised and calls us to practise, and it highlights how we can sometimes take forgiveness for granted. We pray for forgiveness for our sins every Sunday in church, and each day in between too – or at least that is what Jesus taught us to do. Hearing or saying the words week by week, and day by day, can make us take them for granted, but what we’re saying is that we’re sorry for what we’ve done and promise to change our ways. We hope and trust that if we’re truly sorry then we will receive forgiveness. But if that applies to our own wrongdoing, why shouldn’t it apply to all? If you’re truly sorry then why should the nature of the sin exclude you from forgiveness?..
This is an extract from the February 2015 edition of Reform.