The executions by firing squad of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamaran in Indonesia has prompted a wide variety of responses in Australia.
One cannot but have been moved to see on television the acute distress of the families of those young men as they said goodbye to their loved ones for the last time. Their anguish is unimaginable and it is something they will have to live with for the rest of their lives.
I know that throughout Australia many people, who did not personally know those men, wept bitterly when they heard that the executions had been carried out.
What do we know of the circumstances surrounding this event? Well, we know that they were arrested 10 years ago in their hotel room Indonesia for carrying 334 grams of heroin and subsequently sentenced to execution by firing squad. Despite the attempts by their lawyers and intervention by the Australian government to avert the death penalty, appeals for clemency were rejected by Joko Widodo, the president of Indonesia.
Both lives radically turned around
Both men became Christians while in prison where they sought to befriend and help other prisoners by setting up a drug rehabilitation program and ran various classes including art, graphic design, English and computer.
Chan also worked with some church groups to build an orphanage for underprivileged children in Indonesia. Without doubt their lives had been radically turned around and they were a glowing example of goodness and compassion.
But the debate continues. Should they have been executed?
One the one hand many argue that …
• The evidence of their conversion and character transformation as demonstrated by their care for others in prison and their work in trying to rehabilitate them argues strongly for the proposition that they should have been released.
• Or, it may be argued they after 10 years imprisonment, they had served their time for the crime they had committed.
• Or the death penalty should, at the very least, have been commuted to life imprisonment.
• Or they should have been transferred to Australia to serve out their sentence.
• Or the death penalty is barbaric and should be outlawed by civilised counties.
It has been noted that the average non-parole term in Australia for a crime such as theirs is 4½ years.
On the other hand there are those who maintain that ‘if you do the crime you pay the fine.’
• Some maintain that they have no sympathy for the pair for they went to Indonesia knowing that that country had the death penalty for those who smuggled drugs in and out of the country.
• Others state that they got what they deserved as drug traffickers cause untold misery for those who are addicted.
• Yet others go as far as to say that Australia should also have the death penalty for drug traffickers.
A Christian observation
I don’t want to argue the merits or shortcomings of these opinions, but I do want to make one observation as a Christian.
First of all Chan and Sukamaran were proven guilty of the crime of drug trafficking – they acknowledged their guilt. But committing an offence need not inevitably be followed by absolute punishment – especially punishment that does not take into account possibility of restoration.
The phrase ‘do the crime, pay the fine’ may appear to be fair and persuasive but it is simplistic, and like most such statements, it is shallow and callous. Anyone can criticise, anyone can declare that people who make wrong choices have only themselves to blame, and anyone can denounce the wrongdoer in strident tones of self-righteousness, but only those who truly recognise that they have been touched by forgiveness and unmerited love will have the capacity to show it to others.
I know that I am undeserving of God’s grace, mercy, compassion and forgiveness, but I have been embraced by them all! If I were to receive what I deserve, I would have no hope of heaven! But God in his mercy changed things for me. I have discovered that God ‘does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities’ (Psalm 103:10).
There is a magnificent verse in the Apocrypha that says, ‘As his majesty is, so is his mercy’ (Sirach 2:18).
And when we turn to the New Testament we see just how true this is and how amazingly it was demonstrated. We ‘followed the world’s evil way; [we] obeyed the ruler of the spiritual powers in space, the spirit who now controls the people who disobey God. Actually all of us were like them and lived according to our natural desires, doing whatever suited the wishes of our own bodies and minds. In our natural condition we, like everyone else, were destined to suffer God’s anger. But God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved’ (Ephesians 2:2-5 GNB, emphasis mine).
God’s amazing compassion, grace and mercy
In the gospels we read eight times that Jesus was moved with compassion. And in the wonderful parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 we read that the Samaritan had compassion on a Jew even though there had been centuries of enmity between the two peoples.
And in John’s gospel we read the beautiful story of Jesus’ compassion and forgiveness for the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (John 8). In Jewish law, along with idolatry and murder, adultery was one of the three grave sins that were punishable by death. So if the woman had been stoned to death she ‘would have got what she deserved.’ But Jesus gave her what she needed – love, forgiveness and encouragement.
Admittedly we were not in a position to prevent the executions of Chan and Sukamaran, but as Christians we should, at least, have a different perspective than one that is merely stuck on the letter of the law.
We are beneficiaries of God’s amazing love and have the example of Jesus Christ to show us how to respond with compassion and mercy.
Crystal Cathedral’s Garden of Grace statue of the John 8 incident – the religious leader on the extreme left holds large stones in his hand behind his back
Dr Jim McClure’s well-researched Grace Revisited reveals a greater understanding of God’s grace. Normally $35 it’s obtainable direct from the author for only $25 (plus postage). However this month Dr Jim is offering free an epub version to readers of this magazine – Link/orders/enquiries: email@example.com.