the Question of Repentance
Timothy McVeigh is now dead. The name that has come to be identified with other mass murderers in history (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Nero) will be recorded in history for a tragic crime. McVeigh has now departed from this earthly life. Lethal injection has claimed another criminal. What does all of this mean from a Christian viewpoint? I would like to suggest several facts and principles that come to mind at this time of reflection.
First, the record says that McVeigh had no remorse even at the last moment of his life. He refused to repent of this heinous and callused crime. The book, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, says that he called the children slain in the massacre “collateral damage” in his efforts to murder as many adults as possible. He is reported to have said, “I understand what they felt in Oklahoma City. I have no sympathy for them.” He told the authors of the book that he was disappointed that part of the building remained standing.
This attitude of unrepentance has caused many Americans to realize the enormity of his crime and the insensitivity of his heart. In an era in which vast numbers of the population are insensitive to the gospel and refuse to repent before a holy God, it is interesting that most do recognize the added guilt that McVeigh had since he remained adamant in his perverse resentment and hostility up to the very end. Somehow there is enough conscience left in even the unregenerate heart to know that a dreadful crime (sin) should bring forth a heartfelt repentance.
Second, at a time when vast numbers of Americans oppose the death penalty for the crime of murder, it is interesting that the large majority of people believed that McVeigh should be executed for such a heinous crime. Somehow they reason that an enormous crime that was premeditated should be punished with death. Scripture appears to condone the death penalty. After the worldwide flood, God said to Noah, “Whoever sheds mans blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). Paul adds that the civil authority “does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:4). The apostle said to Festus, the Roman procurator of Judea, “If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die” (Acts 25:11). Although the Christian Himself is not to harm another person (cf. Romans 13:17-21), it would appear that God sanctions the civil death penalty in some cases.
Third, McVeighs crime reminds us that anger is proper and even demanded in some instances. This crime and the maliciousness of the perpetrator has aroused a great amount of anger among the survivors, the relatives of the victims, and the American public in general. Scripture does warn against anger for it generally is coupled with impatience, hatred, malice, and evil thoughts (cf. Ephesians 4:31; James 1:19-20). However, in some cases anger is the only righteous response. Scripture says that Jesus looked “around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5). God Himself “is a righteous Judge, and a God who has indignation every day” (Psalm 7:11). In the face of sin, perversion, and wickedness, the Christian must adopt a righteous stance and be angry with everything that opposes God and His holiness. We should be angry in the presence of sin.
Fourth, this crime should cause us to realize that we too are sinners. We cannot look at McVeigh and point an accusing finger at him while claiming our own innocence. Scripture indicts us too. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). We have all been guilty of sin and Paul reminds us, “those who practice such things (sins) are worthy of death” (Romans 1:32). He continues, “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things” (Romans 2:2). We may not be guilty of murdering as many people as McVeigh did, but have we been impure, fornicated, committed adultery, stolen something, or coveted what belongs to another? Have we slandered another, been jealous, been envious, or caroused? All of these and many other sins lead to spiritual death and will prevent one from entering the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). All of us have sinned and all of us need the grace of God to forgive us.
Finally, as we think of McVeighs death by lethal injection, let us recall that he had six years to come to Christ. He had six years to repent of the 168 deaths involved in the bombing. Even such a heinous criminal and sinner as this could have been entirely forgiven by a merciful God! He could have been “washed” clean of his sins, “sanctified” from his sins and devoted to God, and “justified” or declared absolutely righteous before God (1 Corinthians 6:11)! But he failed to heed Gods call and went to his grave unrepentant. He will face a holy and righteous God and suffer the sentence that God has a right to impose (cf. Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8). But is it any different for us? Do we ignore Gods call to repentance? Do we allow days to pass while we continue in known sin of some kind? Do we vainly think that we will escape the judgment of God? Do we look at McVeigh and think he was worthy of Gods judgement, while we continue in sin, oblivious to our own spiritual and eternal peril?
Now is the time to recognize our own sins! Now is the time to repent of our sinful heart, sinful speech, and sinful acts. Now is the time to seek Gods pardon. It is time to come to Jesus the Savior who died on the cross, who suffered for our sins, and who offers us complete forgiveness if we will come to Him. Believe in Him and be baptized into Him that you too may become a new creature in Christ Jesus (John 3:36; 5:24; Acts 2:38; 17:30-31; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Let us learn from the Oklahoma City bombing and the McVeigh execution! Let us take these lessons to heart that McVeighs death may not be in vain!