I was sitting in one of our local libraries thinking about the Old Testament passage from the prophet Amos (Amos 7:7-15) and I came across this headline article from the Akron Beacon Journal dated Tuesday, June 30th with the headline, Apology Doesn’t Save Killer’s Life.
The article recounts the final hearing for a young man just now in his early twenties, Shawn Eric Ford Jr. for the brutal murder of an older couple, Margaret and Jeffrey Schobert, when he was just a few months over 18 years old. From the article this young man was in a relationship with the couple’s daughter, the family had taken the young man in as a son to them, given to him every good thing and opportunity they could. This article doesn’t recount it, but it is implied that somewhere along the line the couple forbade their daughter from dating the young man anymore, as a parent, probably simply because he wasn’t good for her and she obeyed. Because the young man couldn’t have what he wanted even though the family had given him every good thing and was still willing to love and support him in any other way they could, he said “I always felt like things had to be my way, and when things didn’t go my way, I did something about it, or just tried to make it my way.” So to get what he wanted, knowing full well the consequences that go with the actions, walked eight miles bringing along a fourteen old with him, from Akron to Summit, murdered the husband then lured the mother to the home and murdered her as well.
The family, and even a Summit police officer spoke during the victim testimony of the proceedings, these quotes just break your heart: “what happened shattered us, but we don’t hate you,” “how good they were to you, they did not judge you, they loved you, they loved you as their own,” “they would forgive you,” and “they saw you as God sees you.”
Yes this young man had many strikes against him, gangs, learning disabilities, temper, poverty and so on… but even so as the judge said there was no excuse that takes away the consequences of premeditated murder in cold blood. The picture that is painted is one of a loving couple, that first loved this young man and repeatedly cared for him as their own, even though they set limits and allowed consequences to happen, like forbidding him from dating their daughter any more, but yet they still loved and cared for him. But time and again he reacted in a wrong and sinful manner and eventually killed those that loved him, and yes he is sorry, I am sure that he is, and can he find forgiveness, yes, even the family is learning how to forgive even him, but will he still suffer the consequences of his actions, yes an apology doesn’t save killer’s life.
Today, reading from the Old Testament prophet Amos, is like reading a story ripped from this very headline, apology doesn’t save killer’s life. To understand the whole gist of the story, this little chapter isn’t enough; you have to hear the whole story of the prophecy.
Amos, the book tells us, was not a professional prophet, did not work in the city or was involved in politics, he was a commoner, a shepherd, someone that those in power would not even think twice about. It says that God pulled out from shepherding through visions to speak these words of prophesy to the kind of people who wouldn’t listen to his kind of people in the first place. God choosing Amos as a prophet was a judgment against the people and their broken kind of living.
God called out to the people through Amos, “from among all of the nations on earth, I have been intimate with you alone.” The Hebrew here is marriage and family language. Was a father to them, his children, He was the husband they were his bride. This kind of language is scattered throughout the whole Bible to describe God’s relationship with His people. God called them family, his very own people and as his own people, God loved them as family would, giving love and every good gift to them. Think of the Exodus out of the slavery of Egypt and the giving of the promised land. But just because someone loves you so deeply and cares for you does not mean the other person will respond in love and faithfulness.
Through the prophecies God continually says, “the people have sinned again and again, the people have sinned again and again.” Listen to how the people responded to God’s love and care: “they have rejected the Lord’s instruction,” “they sent whole villages into exile selling them as slaves,” “chased down their relatives with the sword and showed no mercy,” “oppress the poor, crush the needy,” and “rip the baby from the womb.” They scorned and oppressed people just like Amos. They spit in God’s face and repaid his love with scorn.
Through the prophet God warns there are consequences to your actions, your cities will be destroyed, you will be led out in slavery, invading armies will conquer you, generations will be in exile. But why tell them all of this? God says through Amos, “Indeed, the Sovereign Lord never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared—so who isn’t frightened?” God again and again gives to them warning and consequence, time and again, not just to punish but to save them from themselves so that somehow they will stop and avoid the consequence that is coming their way because of their own damning actions. Even though this is not what God desired for them these consequences and more would come if they continued to follow along this path.
Finally, to the prophesy from today, God says a plumb-line has been placed in front of you. A plumb-line is a tool used to get an accurate measurement of a vertical line. In construction you hang the plumb-bob, which is a weight with a pointed end from some dense string and tack it into place at the top where you are doing the measurement. The plumb-bob hangs down to the bottom of the floor and once it stops swaying it gives you an accurate vertical line that you can do your measurements off of.
In our basement this past month we built a new interior wall for our bedroom and I had to use this tool to get an accurate measurement for the studs. Once the line was in place and measured and I compared it to my studs, it was clear as day that the wall I had been putting in place was not true and I had to do some pounding and kicking to get it to measure up. Had to, because if I didn’t a crooked wall would cause all sorts of grief down the line.
This same prophesy shows Israel, look there’s a bob line in your midst, it is God’s law and God’s love, it is straight and true, it doesn’t lie, but look at your paths and how you are living, see how they are crooked and broken, bent and perverted, this isn’t about opinion or excuses, the truth is the truth, and your crooked way of living has natural consequences down the line.
Throughout the prophesy one phrase keeps popping up, it is an almost undignified plea; something maybe you wouldn’t expect from God, but a plea none the less from the one who loves the people, “turn back and live.”
How does apology doesn’t save a killer’s life and turn back and live work together? Have you ever experienced the consequence of your actions and it saved your life or maybe it saved your soul? Time and again the consequence for our broken actions is like the warning sign in downtown Cleveland blinking: “slow down, dead man’s curve ahead,” or the police officers who are always right there about a mile or so before dead man’s curve giving out speeding tickets like candy. None of those things, huge blinking signs and speeding tickets are things we want to deal with, but they have a purpose, that if you don’t slow down you will crash, die and probably take a lot of people with you. The consequences are meant to save your life and the lives of the people around you.
But can you die from your consequences and still live? Yes, yes you can. There is a death that is greater than our mortal bodily death, the second death that is death eternal apart from God, a consequence of our own choosing. But that young man that will suffer the consequence of his actions, if he repents and turns to the Lord in faith he can still live. He will still die because of his sin, but coming to that death may bring him to the place where in faith if he turns and lives, he won’t have to suffer the second death, that even though he dies he will be made alive because of Jesus.
Our savior has done this for us, by the taking the full consequences of our sin upon the cross, the consequences that we fully deserve from our own sinful life and actions, the consequence of suffering the second death and being apart from God eternally in a hell of our own making. Jesus died so we wouldn’t have to suffer that second death, but in faith receive the blessing that even though we die we will live because of Jesus.
As we live our life, to suffer the consequences of our actions, is not a bad thing. Each time we suffer the consequences of our sinful actions, we die a little, but what is it that dies? It’s the part of us that is stubborn, sinful and selfish, the part of us that hurts ourselves, others and keeps us away from God. The part that the young man said spoke to him before he killed, ““I always felt like things had to be my way, and when things didn’t go my way, I did something about it, or just tried to make it my way.” That is the part that dies and it is good for us to let it die, bury it in the grave and walk away without shedding a single tear for it. Because that is the part of us that will bring us to the consequence of the second death, the eternal death that we cannot ever come back from. But instead just let it die and stay buried so that the gift of faith, the part of us that loves God and receives His promises may live, so that even though we die, die to ourselves, die to sin, even our mortal bodies dying, we will live. In faith to die to ourselves so we can live.
Apology doesn’t save killer’s life but in faith he may still live in Jesus.
(Oddly, this past month or so I’ve had a lot of questions about the death penalty and how Christians should view it. In this meditation I took one way of looking at it, not answering the question of whether or not Christians should approve of the death penalty rather if there is a death penalty in place what our end goal should be, maybe not save the life of those rightly condemned but strive to save the eternal life.)