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Jesus Meets The Killers

February 15, 2010

We as humans have a tremendous capacity for excusing our own misconduct by comparing ourselves to other people.  Judgment of others does not require religious affiliation; it is a natural, inborn tendency.  We all do it.  It is so easy to justify our behavior.  Yes, the shorts I wear may be a little short, but they aren’t as short as that girl’s.  Yes, I might have used some poor language, but I would never swear like that guy.  Yes, I might have been slightly deceptive once or twice, but I would never cheat on my taxes.  We persistently compare our own actions to those around us instead of comparing them to the righteous standard that God has established—the standard by which we all “fall short” (Rom. 3:23).  We tend to think of sin in terms of the most egregious forms that they take—murder, stealing, adultery.  Instead we should see sin the way God does—the root wickedness that causes the “big sins” is the private thoughts and desires of our heart:  hatred, lust, pride, jealousy.

It is often noted that Jesus spent his time on earth with prostitutes and sinners.  It was a judgment by the Pharisees that Jesus recognized.  He gave account for his association by saying, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mk 2:17).  Jesus was constantly in the society of outcasts; He visited and healed the man possessed with the Legion of demons, the tax collectors, the lepers, the blind and lame, the prostitutes, the Samaritan woman.  Jesus never condoned their sin, but He welcomed repentant sinners.  It was the religious crowd who received the bulk of Jesus’ condemnation.  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matt. 23:27-28).  Jesus wasn’t hesitant to rebuke the Pharisees.  White-washed tombs are beautiful and austere on the outside, but the insides contain fetid, decaying flesh.

Have we become so trapped in religiosity that we appear to Jesus like the Pharisees?  Clean shaven, finely coiffed, and modestly dressed on the outside but on the inside full of rank wickedness?

One of the most foundational ministries of many Christian churches is a prison ministry.  While many churches have their own non-organized ministry to a local jail, other churches have affiliated themselves with a larger network of ministries.  Some churches participate by taking turns with Bible study leadership in their local prisons.  Larger ministries such as Prison Fellowship and Good News Jail and Prison Ministry work to reach inmates in prisons across the US and the world.  Billy Graham’s Institute for Prison Ministries provides both evangelism and education/training for the professionals and volunteers who serve within the prisons.  Thousands of organizations, both church-led and para-church ministries, seek to reach out to the imprisoned.  The International Network of Prison Ministries lists ministries by denomination.  There are over 150 prison ministries affiliated with the Southern Baptists alone.  More than one thousand non-denominational ministries are included in the Network’s database.

Prisons are home to our society’s worst of the worst.  LDS and traditional Christians may differ in their approach to this population based upon doctrinal reasons.  David J. Ridges has served for 35 years in the LDS Church Educational System and is the author of 20 books.  In his Mormon Beliefs and Doctrines Made Easier, Ridges provides this definition of “murder.”

The intentional and unjustified taking of human life for selfish purposes, generally referred to as “first degree murder.”  Cain was guilty of this when he killed his brother, Abel, to “get gain” (Moses 5:31).  Regarding this type of killing, the Doctrine and Covenants teaches, “He that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come” (D&C 42:18).

In cases of members of the Church who desire rebaptism after having been excommunicated for murder, the First Presidency of the Church makes the final decision.  Likewise, for convicted murderers who have studied the Church and desire baptism, the First Presidency makes the final decision on a case by case basis.

Ultimately, the decision on the eternal fate of murderers rests with the Lord, who knows all things (2007, pp. 209-210).

Ridges’ definition is a bit of a contradiction.  First he states that there will be no forgiveness for murderers in this life or in the one to come.  Then he counters that they may have the opportunity to be baptized, given the General Authorities rule in favor.  But there is a certain futility about baptizing an eternally damned man that would make prison ministry a depressing chore for Latter-day Saints.

The history of particular condemnation for murder goes back to the Prophet Joseph Smith.  In Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith he is recorded to have provided this commentary on the finality of judgment for killers.

Now, we read that many bodies of the Saints arose at Christ’s resurrection, probably all the Saints, but it seems that David did not. Why? Because he had been a murderer. If the ministers of religion had a proper understanding of the doctrine of eternal judgment, they would not be found attending the man who forfeited his life to the injured laws of his country, by shedding innocent blood; for such characters cannot be forgiven, until they have paid the last farthing. The prayers of all the ministers in the world can never close the gates of hell against a murderer (p. 188).

There is no doubt about it.  Murder is a serious offense in the eyes of God.  The taking of a created human life is profoundly wrong.  But is Joseph Smith seriously suggesting that David would go to hell for murder?  David, the man after God’s own heart?  With a life full of depths and high points, he is one of my favorite Old Testament characters.  One of those deep valleys was his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah.  The Scripture provides no indication that David even felt guilty about his sin until he was confronted by Nathan the prophet nearly a year later.  But when he was confronted he repented.  II Samuel records only the simple acknowledgment of his crime, “I have sinned against the LORD” (12:13).  But David wrote an entire psalm pouring out his grief, his true repentance, and his restoration of fellowship with God.  How many of us could echo the sentiments of David?  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

If it is true that murderers have no hope of forgiveness in this world or in the world to come, we are all hopelessly lost.  For what is the definition of murder?  Once again, we find God’s standard of righteousness far superior to our own.  “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22).  How many of us have been angry without cause at our fellow man?  The Apostle John echoes the words of Christ, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).

Have we become modern Pharisees who abstain from outward crime but haven’t taken true stock of the crimes of our hearts?  How many of us might see ourselves differently if we really viewed lust as adultery, covetousness as thievery and hatred as murder?  Have you or I esteemed ourselves to be without need for a Physician?  If Jesus came to earth today would we be found as whitewashed tombs—not seeking help and forgiveness for our murderous hearts?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2010 9:18 am

    Thanks for the article.

    It brought me to mind of my father back when he was town doctor while we were living in Richfield, Utah. He had a ministry at the local county jail that he ran for years. He always spoke very warmly of his experiences there and he saw a lot of success in teaching Gospel principles. Saw some real changes in the lives of the people there.

  2. Casey permalink
    February 28, 2011 8:16 pm

    I am doing a project in one of my classes at Clemson University and I was wondering if I could have permission to use
    one of the pictures on your page.

    The picture I want to use is the one of the chalk outline of someone who was murdered
    If you have any questions let me know!

    (PS sorry I didn’t know any other way to contact you guys)

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