Please forgive me

Dr Allen Ault is a trained psychologist who began working in the U.S prison system in order to help and rehabilitate people but became the corrections commissioner for the U.S. state of Georgia. One of his responsibilities was overseeing executions at the prison. He oversaw 5 executions and says, “I have spent a lifetime regretting every moment and every killing.” He is now a passionate anti-death penalty campaigner because he says, “Although it is state-sanctioned, it is by every definition premeditated murder. It’s the most premeditated form of murder you can possibly imagine, and it stays in your psyche forever.”

In the early 1990s Dr Ault supervised the execution of Christopher Burger who, with another man, had been found guilty of a brutal rape and murder in 1977. At the time of the murder Christopher was a 17-year-old juvenile with a borderline mental impairment. He spent 17 years on death row during which time he got an education, received counselling, and changed dramatically. Dr Ault said, “Yes, he was guilty of a terrible crime. He was also desperately contrite. He was a different human being and felt enormous remorse for his crime.” Christopher’s last words to Dr Ault were, “Please forgive me”. Dr Ault said, “I could see the jolt of electricity running through his body. It snapped his head back and then there was just total silence, and I knew I had killed another human being. I still have nightmares.”

The criminal law offers no mercy. If we break the law, we must face the consequences however long ago we committed the offences and no matter how much we regret it. Christopher was contrite which means he realised he had broken not only the law of the land but God’s holy law. He was broken-hearted and had become a different person but still he faced the ultimate penalty with no clemency.

But God’s amazing grace is very different. When we say to him, “Please forgive me”, he does. Jesus was crucified between two criminals. One of them reviled Jesus but the other man rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

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