This began as the worst Holiday Season that I have ever personally experienced…
December 2006 Archives
This story is breaking fast but will likely be old news before I go to sleep tonight. According to the Associated Press, “A top Iraqi official said Saddam will be executed before 6 a.m. Saturday, Baghdad time, or 10 p.m. Friday EST.” Even now, the witnesses to his execution are gathering at an undisclosed area within the Green Zone and state television is broadcasting footage of Saddam’s atrocities, including handcuffed men being tossed from high buildings and a bomb being strapped to a youth’s chest before Saddam’s henchmen blew him up in the desert.
The handover of Saddam from the Americans to the Iraqis will take place only minutes before his execution to prevent any attempts to rescue him. The Americans will retain custody of his corpse to prevent mutilation, which would likely cause a backlash against Americans.
So what does Saddam’s death mean to Christians? The Bible nowhere speaks out against the death penalty and, in the Old Testament, even delineated when and how it should be applied. The use of the death penalty by the ancient Isrealites was remarkably restrained when compared to other ancient cultures, most of which meted out “justice” at the whim of the reigning monarch or local judge. The death penalty was applied so commonly and so unpredictably that Saddam looks like a rank amateur when compared to the dictators of the not-so-distant past.
In the years since the Resurrection of Jesus, governments and the church alike frequently invoked the death penalty. Behvaing inexcusably, Catholics executed Protestants, Protestants executed Catholics, and when other denominations weren’t available, Catholics happily killed other Catholics and Protestants gleefully killed other Protestants.
Only in recent years has the church (and by the church, I mean earthly Christians of all denominations) shunned the death penalty. The pope has spoken out against Saddam’s execution as have a number of Protestant leaders. There are several reasons for this:
- Christians recognize that past Christians have abused the death penalty. The New Testament proscribes how the church is to handle internal discipline and it certainly never calls for the death penalty. Better to abolish the death penalty than to have it abused.
- Modern secularism has become anti-death penalty and this thinking is infiltrating the church. Oddly enough, modern secularism sees no problem with abortion and is quickly embracing euthanasia and even infanticide. Some denominations or groups within denominations support abortion but they tend to be small groups, like Catholics for Choice, or declining denominations, like the United Church of Christ (not to be confused with the conservative Churches of Christ prominent in the south and southeastern portions of the country
- Many Christians want to give everyone an opportunity to embrace Christ as their savior and believe that the death penalty cuts short that opportunity.
It is this last point which concerns me the most. The older I get, the less I support the death penalty. Perhaps I should say that I no longer derive any satisfaction from the death penalty. No person is beyond redemption unless they harden their hearts by repeatedly rejecting the callings of the Holy Spirit. One could thus argue that Christians should only support the death penalty for those who have committed especially heinous crimes and whose actions indicate that their hearts have been totally hardened to the Holy Spirit.
It’s pretty obvious when persons have committed especially heinous crimes and Saddam certainly falls into that category. But what about the hardening of the heart? Chuck Colson, one of modern Christianity’s greatest leaders, bragged in the 60s and 70s that he would run over his own grandmother if she were in the way of getting something that he wanted. God met him in prison and Colson’s life was changed forever. God met Saul on the road to Damascus and changed history. God met a third-rate British slave trader and inspired him to write one of the greatest hymns of all times, Amazing Grace. If God could change the hearts of these people, couldn’t he change the heart of Saddam? Of course he could.
The problem is whether Saddam will heed God’s call. It’s entirely possible that Saddam is accepting Christ even as I write and that my jaw will drop when I meet him in heaven. Anything is possible with God. God knew before the stars were created when Saddam would be born and when, where, and how he would die. By his behavior, it appears that Saddam has a hardened heart and is past redemption. But God works in strange and mysterious ways, and he may choose to use Saddam’s impending execution as the way to bring him to Christ. Saddam contemplating his own mortality could be the only thing that could prompt him to think about where he will spend eternity. Deathbed conversions are not all that uncommon and it’s a miracle that God can use even death to bring eternal life.
It is not my job to judge the state of Saddam’s soul. It is my prayer though that he would accept Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour before the trapdoor opens and it’s too late.