The Judge sent him to prison for life. He died. Now what?
What does love mean to you? I’m struggling with that right now, what it means to me.
I’m married, so I know, or think I do what it means to love as a wife…to do those things that would bring peace, comfort, joy, and safety to my husband. I’m a mom so I think I know what love means as a mom. I would give my life for any one of my children or grands. No matter how far they may live from me, I think about and pray for them daily.
Yesterday I learned that the murderer of my best friend some fifty years ago, died, in prison for her murder. I loved her, but I still am not sure what to do with my feelings for him.
For twenty years, I didn’t think about him. When his name came to my mind, I just felt thankful that he was in prison. Then I found something else to think about. Through a variety of circumstances, he made it into my mind a while ago, and God wouldn’t let it go.
He was eighteen when he shot her to death. The judge sent him to prison for life. But witnesses gave testimony during the trial that the “system” had identified this foster kid as emotionally damaged as a child. They said other things about him during the trial but I never forgot what they said about him, the boy-man, this murderer. Damaged!
The bottom line was that his decision-making processes were impaired. Please, I am not excusing what he did. It’s just that God kept showing me that this man deserved grace. He too had been a victim, so what was I going to do about it?
So I did what writers do. I wrote him a letter. I shared the gospel with him, that the Bible says Jesus died on the cross to pay with his life for all of our sins. And Jesus rose again showing that his death had paid in full our sin debt. In the letter I told him there are consequences to our choices here on earth, but Jesus took care of the eternal punishment. All we have to do is to accept by faith the gospel message or good news of what Jesus did for us.
I had found out what prison he was in, so I mailed the letter off back in 1984. I never heard from him.
As a teenager, he loved making and singing music. I found a gospel chorus he had written in prison. Yes, I googled his name some years later. That’s all, a chorus, words and music, praising God.
Then, about fifteen years later, I discovered a friend of ours ministered as a chaplain in the prison where he was held. I asked my friend about this man, then well into his fifties as I remember. My friend said he was a bad man, and it was best if I left him alone. So I did.
So what does it mean to love one another? When do we get to stop loving someone? Or do we? Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is very quick to stop loving us.
I have no answers today. I am not happy he is dead. His death doesn’t make all that pain go away. Not really. It will not bring my sweet friend back. And no matter what, she loved him. As broken as he was, she loved him. And I don’t think hating him would help her or me or anyone else.
Maybe this is really just about loving those around us, children and adults who are not easy to love. Maybe that is what I am supposed to be learning or to be reminded of. Maybe if we could consciously find ways to love those people who might be unloved, we might keep one person from being called damaged, as an explanation for why that person lashed out or hurt or wounded someone else. For no reason. That’s what people say when they can’t find any acceptable reason.
So maybe I better work harder at noticing the unloved, or those who feel unloved. They are all around us, I think.
P.S. And in case you wonder what forgiveness means to me: forgiveness never means that what was done was OK. What it does mean is that I leave the balancing of the books to God.