Grace, Love & Murder?
May 20, 2011
Some questions, or rather problems, are too big for my head to get around. I try my hardest to work through and dissect them – but my mind just gives out. It is like when you ask an old computer to do too many things at the same time and it just locks up and stares at you with indignation. That’s what happens to me when I try to figure out something like how Grace, Love, and Murder - a specific murder – fit together. Brain lock.
A couple of preface notes to what follows are in order.
-- This is a horrible post and will unsettle you – I hope – assuming you have a soul.
-- I, unlike I would venture to say 99.9999% of you, have first hand deep experience in this topic. I go to death row in California every couple of months because I represent men there who have murdered people. That work takes me through dark places, lives, and realities I didn’t know existed and still wish I didn’t. That doesn’t make me special – it just gives you some background and probably gives me a different view of the topic.
-- I have no answers at all so you won’t find one at the end if you are looking.
A thirty-two year old girl, Emily, and her father, Russ, are murdered.
Emily is a wife of two years and the mother of a seven year old daughter and a three month old son. After years of fighting her first husband, Robert, Emily is finally given custody of her daughter by the court and takes her father Russ to get her from Robert’s home. The door opens and Robert, her ex-husband, begins firing. The daughter isn’t there because he sent her to get ice cream with his second wife and as Emily and Russ run back to the car Robert chases them, firing and reloading, until he finally kills them both – shooting them in the backs of their heads while they lie on the street. Emily’s three-month old is in the car waiting for his mom – hearing the gun shots. Emily’s seven year old special needs daughter is eating ice cream. There is a day care center across the street from the home and shots spray across the scene hitting anything and everything, but not another person. The police arrive and the madness draws to a close.
As horrible as this may sound -- people, lots of people, are murdered every day all over the world and I don’t think a thing of it.
But when my wife came sobbing into my office early last week it was different. Emily Ford went to college with us, and while I didn’t know her, my wife did. Emily was Bridget’s “little sis” in their sorority – the girl you take under your wing and help become part of the family. She danced at our wedding and, thanks to Facebook, was in touch with my wife from time to time. So this murder was different.
I listened silently to the story through my wife’s tears and then began to try and make sense of it.
Lives were destroyed on the 3rd of May. Nothing that will happen now, or ever, will bring Emily and Russ back. The lives of Emily’s mom, husband, and children have been forever devastated. The hundreds of friends and family connected to the children have been forever marked.
Robert’s second wife – her life was destroyed. And nothing will redeem Robert’s life. Robert will die in prison, as he should, one way or another. Robert’s parents, whoever they are, are now the parents of a murderer. His friends, or former friends, are the friends of a murderer.
Murder changes everything.
Homicide is killing someone. But murder, this kind of murder, is killing someone with planning, deliberation, and reflection. It’s not killing in rage or a drunken stupor. It’s not killing in a gang fight or a robbery gone bad. It’s killing with such soberness of mind and desire that you send your wife and daughter out for ice cream before you do it and reload your gun to make sure it is done. We have a death penalty, right or wrong, for this kind of murder. It is as bad as it gets.
While I stood in the back of the church last Friday during the funeral for Emily and Russ, I couldn’t help thinking about Robert sitting alone in a cell; probably knowing the funeral was taking place for the wife he once loved and her father.
The word murder was never mentioned at the funeral and the event wasn’t even hinted at, but it was there.
Standing there, the word “Broken” just kept running through my head over and over again. Everything was so broken. Not just because of the murder but because of what happened before it. Lives were broken for years before that. A short marriage ended in divorce and then a fight for a child. I can’t tell you why Robert did what he did, but in a perfect world he wouldn’t have. Our world is so broken that this happens. Things are not okay.
But the real problem in this story is figuring out how Grace and Love and Murder somehow exist together. How Evil of this magnitude can be reconciled with Good of God’s magnitude.
We all know that God so loved the world that he gave His son for Emily and Russ and Emily’s kids, and Emily’s husband, and Emily’s mom. I pray that God sends a special angel to love those kids in the ways that only God can and in time bring them redemption for their lives and eternity.
But we also know, as much as we might not like it – even hate it right now – that God so love the world that He gave His son for Robert as well. Robert had a chance and still has a chance to accept that love – to accept eternal redemption.
This is the truth.
Jesus died for the murdered and the murderer. Grace exists for the murdered and the murderer. We are commanded to love the murdered and the murderer. As Christ hung dying on the cross he looked down at the very men that nailed him to it – the men that literally murdered him – and asked God to forgive them. His body and heart were breaking at the same time.
For God - Grace and Love and Murder can and do fit together.
But not for me, at least not yet.
For more information on Emily Ford: