Perhaps like me, you have been sickened by the appalling news story emerging this last week out of California. 13 sons and daughters being routinely chained and starved. A “house of horrors” rather than a home. Where Mother and Father seem to have abandoned their moral and human compass. I cannot escape the story. I keep thinking about these children and young adults. Imagining them, sorrowing about them and hoping for them. Thankful that this lurid chapter has closed and that there is a chance of freedom and life.
As the details have filled in, my passions are stirred for the deliverance of these children and for the condemnation of their abusers. I do not delight in punishment. But, in this case, I want to see the perpetrators pay a price. Don’t you?
What if there was an unexpected turn of events?
Imagine this: Tomorrow morning the news begins to reverberate with an unexpected turn of events. The courts have taken pity on the mother and father and it is decided that they will be absolved for their crimes and go free. Perhaps they will be given care of their children once again.
What would be your response? Would you be impressed with the courts of law? Has justice been executed on behalf of those 13 sons and daughters? Is this a moment for mercy or a moment for punishment?
In the face of these crimes, I want justice. To be fair, I do wonder what abuses the parents may have experienced. What blows made them this crooked? I am sorry for that and I pity them. But these 13 children must know that the world beyond their prison will hold tyrants accountable for their wrongdoing.
Judgment is connected to love
These days there is an increasing amount of chatter about mercy and justice, forgiveness and judgment, heaven and hell. Hows does God navigate this stuff?
I am not angling towards a theological run down here. I am headed elsewhere.
You see, this tragic story has brought something home to me this week. In the wake of these events I have a refreshed understanding that judgment is intrinsically connected to love.
I have never met these 13 children and adults who were denied even the most basic of human joys. But, I feel love towards them. I feel the love of a Mother who wishes I could bring them to my home, cook for them, cuddle them and let them run free in the woods behind my house. The love of a Pastor who wonders if I could be a hands on part of their healing and restoration. The love of a fellow human being who cannot bear the images of those who suffer in this way. I have never met the Turpin children but in my own little way I love them. And that love is directly connected to my passion to see their abusers judged.
Now, back to the news.
Stay with me, I am going somewhere here.
Now imagine this: Tomorrow you wake up and an altogether different news story is breaking . A well respected, powerful, world renowned philanthropist had approached the courts on behalf of Mr and Mrs Turpin. He offers to personally fund their rehabilitation and that of their children. He guarantees it is possible that both the parents and the family can experience healing and restoration. This benevolent man wishes to take care of every possible effect and outcome from this scenario. And lastly, this man offers to be tried in place of Mr and Mrs Turpin and to serve their sentence. The only claus stated here is that the entire Turpin family must sign a contract “good faith” with regards to the actions being taken on their behalf. Mr and Mrs Turpin must acknowledge their guilt and understand that their sentence is being served in full by someone else. The courts agree to these unusual terms and the matter is settled.
What would your response be to this? To me, this seems even more scandalous than the first imaginary news story.
God’s mercy does not skirt around the need for justice.
Folks, this is the “good news” of the gospel. For God so loved the world that He gave His only son and whoever will believe in Him will not be punished, but go free and live life. Everlasting life.
God’s love and mercy does not skirt around the need for punishment. Someone must pay the price for wrongdoing. His kindness does not transcend His Holiness. God’s love is intrinsically connected to His requirement for justice. He does not stand far away from perversion and horror but He comes into the midst of it and offers freedom and healing to the abusers and to the abused.
Love finds a narrow way.
But there is a condition.
And without this condition there is no logic to God’s love. His perfect love has found a narrow way to satisfy the need for justice whilst offering mercy.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (john 3 v18)
No doubt Mr and Mrs Turpin will be condemned for their crimes and be imprisoned for life. Justice will be done. But like other who have committed unspeakable acts of cruelty they can experience reality of God’s forgiveness and I hope they do. It is reported that Jeffrey Dahmer, Myra Hindley and multiple Nazi SS Officers accepted the “offer” of The Lord Jesus prior to their executions. In this life they experienced judgment, but in everlasting life they will be shown mercy. On this, I think the old Hymn writer captures it well and I’ll leave you with this:
On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.
– William Rees