The world looks on as this terrorist, whose ghastly schemes of destruction carried out with his older brother, now dead, killed three and wounded 174 innocent people.
The flow of media talk now shifts to speculate on the terrorist’s future. They cite the Constitution, discuss America’s judicial system, argue over the term “enemy combatant,” and weigh the legal rights of a terrorist who is also an American citizen.
This outpouring of questions will be on the public agenda for years: What will justice mean for the terrorist? For the aggrieved and wounded families? For the Country so unfeelingly violated?
Can any humanly crafted legal system, however deeply rooted in history and the Judeo-Christian moral code, and however meticulously applied, mete out an utterly adequate penalty? Or, must complete justice await the Final Judgment?
Soon after the winning of World War II, British prime minister Winston Churchill was asked about the whereabouts of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi monster who had plunged the world into war. He had disappeared. Some were saying he had fled to Argentina; others that he had killed himself (which turned out to be true).
Churchill replied that he did not know where Hitler was but he was sure he would turn up in this world or the next and would be dealt with adequately by the corresponding authorities. It was a half-facetious allusion to the Christian doctrine of a final perfect judgment for all.
A final judgment beyond time is a theme the Bible strikes often and clearly. Here’s what it says in Revelation 20: 11–15 as translated in the New Living Translation:
“And I saw a great white throne, and I saw the one who was sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to the things written in the books, according to what they had done. The sea gave up the dead in it, and death and the grave gave up the dead in them. They were all judged according to their deeds. And death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death – the lake of fire. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20: 11-15).
It’s a grim picture. Any unbeliever who reads and ponders this prophecy with any degree of seriousness would surely quake. When Christians read it they crowd up to Christ Jesus, their Savior. The reason: By his ignominious death on a Roman cross he paid the full penalty for every believer. He is their Advocate and their at-one-ment (atonement) with God.
But for Christians there is another aspect to that Great Day. The Apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Rome, “For we (Christians) will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Rom. 14:10b; also 2 Cor. 5:10) Although Christ assures our entrance into the heavenly kingdom, the redeemed must give an account for the quality of life we have lived for him in the power of the Spirit while on earth.
For example, we will be judged on our loyalty to his cause (Lk 11:23), our obedience to his commands (Jn 14:15), our fruitfulness in holiness (Jn 15:5), and our love for our brothers and sisters in the faith (1 Jn 2:10).
As evil as the 19-year-old terrorist has been, and whatever penalty he receives in this world, we pray that he –and all of his victims– will have had an encounter in this life with Jesus that will bring mercy in the world to come. And we live each day in gratitude that God has offered this same mercy to us.