The Hypothetical Sinner

There is a hypothetical situation I hear brought up a surprising amount. It goes something like this: ‘a horrible murderer does something terrible to myself or my family. He is sentenced to execution. Minutes before the lethal injection, he repents of his sins and gives his life over to Christ. Should that man’s salvation be taken seriously? Should he really be given the same Heaven that I, or my family, should get?”

Before I answer anything about this question, I want to point out that the penalty for this murderer’s sins were NOT avoided. They were much steeper than the injection, in fact. They included a blindfold, vinegar, nails, thorns, a leaded whip, and heavy, rough-hewn wood. They involved public humiliation, being spat on, being beat up, and being tortured to death. And they were all fulfilled by Jesus, who has volunteered to be a sacrifice for this man’s sins. So the justice you crave has not been denied to you one bit; it’s been bled out, severely, humiliatingly, over the course of many, many hours. The problem in your heart is that you expected this sentence to be carried out on the body of the murderer, not on the body of your Lord.

But think of it this way – all through the legal process, this murderer has had access to government-granted rights, which you also share. These include, among other things, the right to legal counsel, the right to be spared punishment deemed overly cruel or unusual, the right to food, and so forth. You would not realistically want these rights taken away from the murderer because, of course, you or someone you love may someday be arrested, and you want these rights to be applicable to you and yours. These are rights for all American citizens. Now, just as this man has his American rights, he has spiritual rights. The worse he has sinned, and the less life he has left, the more impossible it becomes for him to pay that debt he owes to God. The only options left to the man are atonement or Hell, and he has chosen atonement. God has granted him and all others the ability to trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. And if some colossal sinner decides, at the very end of life, that he wants that wonderful forgiveness, then yes, he escapes the pain of his sins and receives a joy which he has not earned. But NONE of us were ever good enough to deserve eternal joy, not a one of us. You may have led a decent life, you may deserve some joy, but eternal joy? A perfect life? In the presence of the most holy of all beings? Even the most precursory self-searching should show that you no more belong in God’s Heavenly court than a potato! And actually that potato would have a much better claim than you!

The fact that you – and others – receive salvation should not be an upset to you. It makes happy the heart of God. You, as someone who cares about God, should try to share his happiness when a sinner repents, even if it is difficult for you yourself to forgive. You can separate your pain, grieve what has happened, and thirst for resolution. But please, do not become angry that God shows mercy, because he shows it to all. And your only comfort out of this tragedy may be to try to share God’s joy in watching one less soul go to Hell. After all, a thousand years from now, I would much rather see my enemy in peaceful service and communion with those I love, giving love to them in return, than watch his pointless suffering for a sin already paid for. And if he chose repentance and salvation, that is the outcome that his soul craves, too, even if his decision was made under duress.

So if it bothers you that every “customer’s” debt has been paid, you should examine your soul, and your relationship to Christ. Because the start of a relationship with Christ is to realize he died for your sins; maturity involves realizing that he died for the sins committed against you.

God bless you, and have a good weekend.

Please message the author for scriptural references.

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