The Crime Library described Ford as "the remorseful serial killer," and said this about his apparent penitance:
Carlton Smith suggested in his book Shadows of Evil, the chances of a serial killer turning himself in and showing remorse for his victims is extraordinarily small. In fact, San Francisco State University Criminologist Mike Rustigan stated in an Associated Press article that Wayne's confessions were "truly an exception in the annals of serial killers." Wayne's apparent shame for his brutal crimes earned him the nickname the "serial killer with a conscience."
Serial killer with a conscience? That seems like an oxymoron.
Nevertheless, the Bible gives us several examples of murderous men who repented. In fact, three of the greatest Bible figures were killers or accomplices. Moses killed an Egyptian and fled to the wilderness and David successfully plotted the murder of Bathsheba's husband. Furthermore, before his conversion, the apostle Paul systematically hunted Christians. But in spite of their acts and various degrees of hardened hearts, God churned inside these men.
While it can be argued that serial killing is different than first degree murder, it cannot be argued that first degree murder shouldn't be equally punishable by death. (Under the laws of some states, Kind David would certainly be recommended for execution.) Either way, none of these "killers" were too far for God to apprehend.
While the Bible suggests there is a state where repentance is impossible (Heb. 6:4-6) and where the heart is terminally hard, the parameters of that condition are anything but clear. A show of conscience can be one of the most important evidences for a redemptive hope. But discerning that evidence is not always easy.
Especially when the individual in question has left a trail of death behind them.
One of the reasons I remain conflicted about capital punishment is our inability to know exactly what's going on inside the heart. Was Mr. Ford genuinely sorry, or just sorry he got caught? Furthermore, should any apparent remorse have bearing upon his sentencing? The record seems to imply Ford was tormented about his crime; he summoned his brother to confess, and eventually turned himself in to the police. To me, this type of inner turmoil points to a conscience that is not yet dead. Either way, judging between a penitent soul and a reprobate mind is too hard a task, one that none of us can ever make with 100% accuracy -- it is something best left to God.
There is, in all this, a clear distinction between the role of government and the role of the Church. One of the commentators in the previous post wrote this:
As Christians, we are called to forgive. We are called to witness. We are called to love the unlovable.
But the government is ordained to stand in the place of God Himself when it comes to punishing the wicked, not as God the Loving, but as God the Avenger. Romans 13 makes it completely clear what the government's role is to be (one could even argue that it's the only true role given by God TO the government in Scripture).
Can I attempt to love and forgive the person who murders someone I know and love? As an imitator of Christ, it is absolutely required of me to do so! But at the same time, my government is required by God to punish that person. And "the sword" does not mean therapy.
This is a terrific point, but exactly how does Christian mercy -- the Church's call to "forgive" and "love the unlovable" -- and "the sword" interface? Can they?
The death penalty can easily be established under Old Testament law. The New Testament is another story. Apart from Romans 13, I'm unaware of any verses that compel Christians to endorse the death penalty. In fact, according to Christ, the law was fulfilled in Him, supplanted by a higher set of principles. We no longer stone adulterers and witches; we pray for those who use us and turn the other cheek. Of course, this does not mean we are flippant with forgiveness and socially reckless, but that love and grace and mercy tempers our judgements.
And that's what I'm wrestling with. How do we uphold the call to judge right and still render mercy? How can I pull the switch on someone else, when I deserve to be executed a hundred times over?
If we live by "an eye for an eye," the whole world will eventually go blind.
There is a God who will avenge the weak, balance the scales and lay bare the secrets of men's hearts. I am not Him. He knows what Wayne Adam Ford deserves. I don't. I do know that God offered His Son to be executed for sinners like me. He turns at the slightest hint of remorse, as the filthy Prodigal stumbles home broken and spent, and meets the wayward soul with grace. And He calls me to do the same...