Friday, August 21, 2009

Compassion for a Killer

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

There’s been a lot of outrage expressed on both sides of the Atlantic about the Scottish Secretary of Justice’s decision to release the convicted Libyan bomber of Pan-Am Flight 103. Radio Talk shows and newspapers, TV and cable news networks have been reporting on the outburst of anger and the cries of injustice that have been heard across the land.

Families from both the United States and Lockerbie, Scotland have been interviewed. Reports of their dismay and frustration have been circulated across the Web. Many have called for the resignation of the Secretary of Justice, as well as expressing their hope that the bomber Megrahi dies a slow and painful death. And, as if to rub salt in the wounds, Megrahi’s heroic homecoming in Libya was too much to take.

I remember the night of the bombing very well. All of our churches in Maybole, Scotland had been celebrating an inter-denominational Christmas service at the Old Kirk. My pastor friend Colin, who preached the sermon, had even put a garland of tinsel in his hair. I think I was wearing a Santa helper’s hat as well. It was a wonderful service and we all went home joyfully praising God.

And then it happened. Our celebrations were over. The whole of Scotland was shocked. Lockerbie was engulfed in flames. If the bomb had gone off fifteen minutes later, it probably would have hit Maybole, which was directly under the flight path.

The Scottish people were outraged and demanded that the bombers, if caught, be brought to trial in Scotland. Megrahi was eventually caught and sentenced to life imprisonment. The evidence against him was questionable and it seemed as though he was being scapegoated by the real perpetrators of the horrific bombing. Indeed, some of the British families, who lost loved ones in the bombing, campaigned on Megrahi’s behalf for a second appeal. It was recently denied by the Law Courts, so Megrahi was expected to languish and die in prison.

He’s suffering from a terminal condition and isn’t expected to live much longer. The Secretary of Justice released him on grounds of compassion, which is that great gift of God given to us through the suffering of Christ. Compassion, like mercy, is not given because anyone deserves it, but because someone needs it. Many are outraged and wonder why such a heinous killer of innocent people is being given his freedom. But that’s what compassion is – the turning of the other cheek, along with loving our enemies. It’s hard to practice, justify, or even accept.

I think Lord McCluskey, a retired Scottish judge, whom I admire greatly, summed it up best when he said: "There is no reason for us not to show compassion – apart from revenge, which isn't the sweetest of virtues."

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we honestly do not understand why evil occurs in the world, nor do we fully comprehend why evil people prevail at times. You give us a very weak weapon in the world’s eyes to confront and overcome evil: compassion. Help us to accept that this is our calling as Christians, especially when it is least popular. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to


Nancy said...

Thanks for this.

Mark Smith said...

What happens when compassion for the killer creates additional pain for the victims' families and friends?

Stushie said...

Well here's the theological question Mark: what happens when God forgives heinous sinners compassionately, causing others pain because it seems to unjust?

Compassion and justice are two entirely different things. if God was to deal with us justly, would any of us survive His wrath?