To Forgive or Not To Forgive…

Following the “botched” execution of Clayton Lockett on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, social media was buzzing with cries of “torture” and “cruel and unusual punishment.”  Curious about the background of the crime, I read several articles and court documents on the history of the case (i.e., the murder of Stephanie Neiman by Clayton Lockett).  My conclusion?  Clayton Lockett was merciless and cruel when he shot and buried alive 19 year old Stephanie Neiman when she refused to cooperate and ‘keep quiet’ after Clayton and his buddies botched a home invasion. It is abominable that “bleeding hearts” believe that Lockett deserved a “peaceful” death, let alone “prayer” versus “punishment” for his wrongdoing.  I then consulted the Bible and referenced these phrases in relationship to how I felt about Lockett’s death:

Leviticus 24:17 ESV – “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.”

Exodus 21:12 ESV – “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.”

Numbers 35:30-31 ESV – “If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death.”

Romans 13:1-14 ESV – “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”

My brother, bless his heart, countered with:

Luke 6:37 ESV – “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Matthew 5:38-39 ESV – “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

The details of Stephanie’s death are chilling.  She was beaten with the butt of a shotgun, gagged and her hands bound with duct-tape, and driven in her own truck (a graduation gift from her parents) to a dusty, country road.  Stephanie refused to cooperate with Lockett, stood her ground, and fully intended to report the crime.  Stephanie was forced to watch Lockett’s accomplice, Shawn Mathis, dig a shallow grave in a ditch beside the road.  Lockett then shot Stephanie once, but had to return to Stephanie’s truck when the shotgun jammed.  As he fixed the shotgun, Stephanie pleaded for her life and Lockett and Mathis joked and laughed about “how tough Stephanie was” before Lockett shot her a second time.  Lockett then ordered Mathis to bury Stephanie, despite the fact that Mathis informed him Stephanie was still alive.

As a mother, those details rock me to the core.  For Stephanie’s parents, the knowledge that their child, a promising, 19-year old with a lifetime of experiences and successes before her, was destroyed amidst the laughter and jokes of two individuals with such vile, selfish, callous for human life would leave me empty, cold, and heartless.  Even with the words of Jesus resonating within my heart and my head, forgiveness towards Lockett and Mathis would be unthinkable and unbearable.

In his book, Forgive and Forget, Lewis B. Smedes wrote:  “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life.  You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.”  The wounds caused by Stephanie’s murder festered within her family and the community for 14 years, 10 months, 25 days, and 43 minutes at which point Clayton Lockett was pronounced dead.  Today, 14 years, 10 months, and 27 days later, those wounds are still infected and festering.

How do we extend forgiveness when the act that begs forgiveness is so violent and abhorrent?  How do we forgive by faith, out of obedience to the Lord, when the atrocity of the trespass has destroyed our loved ones and our families?  How do we trust God to do the work in us that needs to be done so that the forgiveness can take place, let alone be complete?  And how do we continue to forgive by faith until the work of forgiveness (the Lord’s job) is done in our hearts?

Matthew 6:14-15 ESV – “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Continued unforgiveness covets revenge.  Through unforgiveness, we take matters into our own hands and remove authority for vengeance from God.  We block God’s ability to bring about HIS wrath for the wrongdoer and to repay those who wrong us.  We remove our faith and our trust from our spiritual being and weaken the bond between our Lord and our own salvation.

Romans 12:19 NIV –  “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

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