Is there forgiveness for Murderers?

Huzzah! Another question in the inbox. This one comes from my friend Greg, who is back from the dead after falling off the face of the planet for the past 10 years (sorry, inside joke). I’m gonna warn you, though. This is a great question, but it’s heavy. Here’s the question:

Reuben, with the latest update in the Susan/Josh Powell and their sons’ case, there are many around me that are immediately condemning Josh to certain Degrees of Glory. Although, everyone knows that we are not capable of making such judgements, they all start flinging scriptures and opinions of how the Bible, BoM, and D&C explain murder. So my question isn’t really pertaining to the Powell case, but rather murder in general. Can forgiveness be given to those who plan and execute first degree murder? (Not that I’m planning anything.) I’m just curious to some outsiders perspective on the matter. . .

So in case anyone out there is living under a rock, Greg is referring to the tragic recent events involving the Powell family out in Utah, members of the Mormon church. Josh Powell, a man who (in hindsight) clearly has severe mental issues, [probably] killed his wife Susan back in 2009, and [definitely] killed himself and his two sons, ages 5 and 7. For more details about the events, see Wikipedia. An example of the controversy Greg is referring to can be found here.

First, let me just say that hell if I know what happens to murderers, right? You’ve got me…

But when has that ever stopped me from pretending like I have all the answers?

I don’t really understand the whole idea of a literal atonement. The metaphysics are beyond me. I don’t understand how Jesus dying thousands of years ago saves me from my actions today. Or how His suffering somehow means that I don’t have to. Or why a loving God would require suffering to begin with. The equation just really doesn’t add up for me. Why wouldn’t we all just suffer for our own sins? How, metaphysically, does one person’s suffering transfer to another person? If God is all powerful and all loving, why couldn’t He forgive us if He felt like it even without Jesus? And who is the bean counter in heaven that makes sure everyone’s Suffering Account (TM) is paid-in-full?

I know the sunday school answers to these questions, and no, I don’t find them helpful.

But here’s the thing: If I’m going to believe in Jesus (which I choose to do), then I’m going to believe in the most powerful Jesus I can imagine. And the most loving and compassionate one, too. The Jesus I can believe in is not one that will save me from some sins but not others. He’s not a sort-of-powerful deity that isn’t quite supreme enough to overcome the highest tier of sins, or the kind of deity that creates us (with all our flaws) without providing a path for redemption. And He certainly is not a God of vengeance (vengeance makes for great comic books – Ghost Rider anyone? – but lousy Christian deity). So yes, I absolutely believe that forgiveness is possible for murderers. And rapists and [insert horrible crime]ists. I won’t settle for any lesser Jesus.

Also, whose idea was it that some sins are more grievous than other sins in God’s eyes? I’m not sure I believe that at all.

Any more questions?
Ask Me Anything!!!

7 comments to Is there forgiveness for Murderers?

  • I don’t know which is worse: that people are so flippantly assigning a kingdom for the Powells or that there was a freaking article about it in [the online version of] a newspaper].

  • Liz

    This is deep… all I know is that I can’t even read any more about the story, as it makes me so sick.

  • Aliecat

    I guess for me, the notion of forgiveness for crimes takes the belief that someone up there is keeping score. Do I believe that I potentially could transcend to a place that would theoretically include Hitler and Dhamer based on a belief system that no one is without the grace of a loving god? Or do I believe that I could potentially descend to a place that includes Hitler and Dhamer based upon a list of transgressions that are both societally important and slightly arbitrary (biblical dietary/clothing laws)? These questions to me are pretty much based on one’s overall belief system. Either you believe that your god is a loving and magnanimous god (thus, IMO, making Hell a moot point) or your god punishes those who sin without repenting regardless of the size of the transgression. Neither idea sits particularly well with me.

  • Anon Y Maus

    The question, whether Mormon doctrine states that God is required to forgive a murderer, is overly broad.
    First, all men are required to forgive. “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”
    Second, Mormon doctrine as found in the BoM in Alma states that:

    5 Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent bblood or denying the Holy Ghost?

    6 For behold, if ye adeny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable; yea, and whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain cforgiveness; yea, I say unto you, my son, that it is not easy for him to obtain a forgiveness.

    From these two verses, we learn that there is at least one sin that is unpardonable (deny the holy ghost when it once has had place in you). The use of the word ‘a’ in the verse indicates that there could be others.

    Compounding the problem is that the word “murder” is a term of art. In some places in the scriptures, it is used in a context that would be legally defensible. (For example, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis in the BoM “murdered” many people before they laid down their swords. Killing during war time is clearly not the same as pre-meditated murder.)

    Another problem is that we cannot truly know what the mind-set of Powell was when he committed the act. If his emotional state would meet a voluntary manslaughter standard, then, juxtaposing that with religious standards MIGHT make it possible to be forgiven, like war-time murderers.

    The fact is, we just don’t know the answer to the question nor the state of mind of J. Powell.

  • I believe that we do suffer for our sins, or the sins of man in total. That is why we live in a fallen world. The sin of man (and woman, but you know what I mean). We all live under a form of curse. Man having to work in order to survive, pain in childbirth, etc. Not to mention evil lurking all around, tempting us, and causing people to be selfish and do evil things to each other.

    However, although we do suffer in this world, we cannot save ourselves from our own sins. We cannot forgive ourselves. We cannot take the burden of our sins on our own shoulders. Jesus did.

    I also do not know why God didn’t just forgive us, instead of having His Son come down and die for us so that we can be forgiven.

    But the burden that Jesus took on his shoulders was more than just that of death. It was the burden of all our sins, which is obviously a way heavier burden, which is inexplicable and cannot be understood by any human being. We all die, and we all suffer. But none of us carries the burden of all the sins of the world, past, present, and future. Only Jesus was able to do that.

    I also believe that God sending His Son to die for our sins was a more tangible way to show His love for all of us, in a way that we could at least somewhat understand (with our feeble minds).

    Would we take Him as seriously if He just stated to us that we’re forgiven, no matter what we do, and that’s final?

    It is much more humbling to know that our God came down for us, suffered like us, and then not only that, but also took on the burden of all our sins. Because as human beings, we are tangible people and can better understand the gift God has given us through His sacrifice by Jesus physically dying for us.

    Just my take.

    ~Lisha

  • RollieB

    Substitutional atonement theories abound and are mostly man trying to think like God – can’t be done. While admire Lisha’s fervor, I believe she is parroting her church’s line. A little independent thinking and research will uncover many other options. Churches claim an authority that is not theirs – speaking for God. Don’t meen to rain on anyone’s parade, just offering my perspective. Peace.

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