Monday, November 9, 2009

A Pointless Death

It seems...well...a very long time ago. It was the end of 2001, and the denizens of Metro DC were having the worst season I can ever remember. The 9/11 attack on the Pentagon began it. It was followed by the anthrax attacks and the ensuing paranoia. And then, for what seemed like forever, there was one killing a day, every day, as the Washington area snipers carried out their brutal efforts at extortion.

I remember the fear, that tension that shimmered in the air, as hundreds of thousands of people looked over their shoulders into the darkness, or moved swiftly to their cars. It was a gnawing anxiety that none of us could shake. Our blinds stayed closed. My wife anguished when I'd go out at night for medicine for our kids. I remember the sorrow, as families mourned those murdered. And I remember the relief and exultation, finally, as John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo were finally captured through the valiant efforts of law enforcement.

Tomorrow, nearly ten years later and barring the unforeseen, John Muhammad will die. For all of the anguish he caused, and for each of the lives he ended, his life will be ended by my home state of Virginia. He will feel fear, and the sting of a needle, then nothing, then...

His death will serve no purpose.

For the city he terrorized, he is no longer a threat. The fear is gone. For the families who lost loved ones, the pain of their loss will not be diminished. And justice? Justice will not be served. He has only one life. How can his one death somehow balance out the lost promise of so many lives, and the anguish of all of those who mourned and wept? It can't. Will his death sentence dissuade others set on murder and mayhem? If we limit ourselves to Virginians, it doesn't appear to have had any effect at all at Virginia Tech. Or at Fort Hood.

It isn't that I don't believe that justice will be served for John Allen Muhammad. True justice awaits him tomorrow evening. But the actions of the Commonwealth of Virginia tomorrow are not what will bring that about.

If we were a truly Christian nation, we would understand that.


  1. Beautiful post. I share your woe. When will this "Christian nation" awaken to Christian hearts and practice? State sponsored death is never a good idea.

  2. So what then do we do with the apostle Paul? Romans 13?

  3. @ Jonathan: We leaven it with Romans 12. Particularly verse 19.

  4. I'm pretty kosher to shooting people, actually. It fits my idea of fair "world" governance. People deserve to receive what they have done to the world. Give good, get good.

    Shoot people, get shot. Seems fair enough to me.

    To me, it isn't about whether the person is a "threat" or not- it's just making sure that everyone gets their due.

  5. @ Jacob: Yeah, I feel that too.

    But if we're honest with ourselves about what the core of the Gospel is, that dog don't hunt. Matthew 5:38-48 just doesn't leave any room for us to take that approach.

    We want it to, but it doesn't.

  6. thanks for this post... i really enjoyed reading it. And I feel what you say--this is indeed a senseless death.

  7. "We leaven it with Romans 12. Particularly verse 19."

    Well, yes, for you and I as followers of Christ, certainly. Vengeance is not our right. But in chapter 13 he's speaking of "governing authorities". In this case wouldn't that be the state of VA? Isn't it possible that God's "vengeance" is meted out by the "governing authorities" of the state of VA? Do not the powers that be exist simply because God allows them that? They are His instruments, so to speak?

    I'm no fan of the State, but I believe it is neccessary. Our job is to define what it can and cannot do.

  8. @ Jonathan: Government can be an instrument of God's wrath, sure. But it is still a worldly power, and the sword it wields is not the same thing as God's wrath. Not even close. God's judgment is rather more intimidating than anything the state can mete out.

    The state is not always conformed to the will of God, any more than we as individuals are always conformed to the will of God. Were that true, Paul's ultimate execution by the Roman authorities could be viewed as God's punishment. And that jes' ain't so. Paul's purpose in Romans 13 is not to bless any action of the state, but to encourage Christians to approach our power structures with the same relentless grace that we bring to our relationships with individuals.