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Letter from America

August 1997 | by David Clark

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The dust has finally settled over Oklahoma City. The trial of Timothy McVeigh is over and sentence has been passed — the man will die in the electric chair. His co-conspirator Terry Nichols will soon also be tried and then, as far as the law is concerned, the matter will be over.

Feelings ran very strong across all of America during the trial. Some argued that the death sentence was too easy a solution for a man who planted a bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on 19 April 1996. 168 people died in the worst ever single incident of terrorism in America. Perhaps the most poignant television pictures, relayed instantly across the world, were those of the blood-covered bodies of little children being carried out of the smouldering building, caught in the blast as they played in the Day Care Centre. Remembering this, others felt that only the death sentence was sufficient punishment for such an act of horror. During a radio interview, one man said that Timothy McVeigh should be tied down over slowly growing bamboo shoots until he felt something of the agony and pain caused by his actions. ‘We will never get back our sons and daughters, our friends, our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters,’ he said.

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was still cordoned off during the trial. All along the fence, flowers, pictures of the dead and other memorabilia were placed. One sign was particularly striking. It read: ‘Heaven 168, Hell 2′ referring to those who died and the two responsible for the killings. Here was a sentiment that every man and woman in America could relate to — but it was wrong! Here was the vain hope that since the men, women, boys and girls who died were no worse than the rest, and were not responsible for the tragedy, then surely God would accept them into heaven. Under the circumstances this is a tragic, yet sad delusion.

Tragedies and killings occur all over the world, frequently with less press attention and public repulsion than that which surrounded the Oklahoma bombing. Christ, speaking of a tragedy similar in some ways to that which occurred in Oklahoma City, said, Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them …were no worse sinners than all other men’ (Luke 13:4). The lesson was clear, and our Lord stated it plainly: “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.’ There is only one hope, only one way of salvation, and that is through ‘the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope’ (1 Timothy 1:1).

As I watched Timothy McVeigh on television showing no visible sign of remorse or emotion as he heard his sentence being pronounced, I shuddered at the inhumanity of the man. I do not know what the final count will be in heaven from that disaster. It is sure that, unless they repent, two men will find themselves one day before the Majesty of God sitting on his judgement throne and will hear yet another sentence pronounced on them, and this time it will be an eternal one without appeal: ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41). There, they will reap the full punishment for their crime and for their sinful nature which led them to commit such a dastardly deed. It is also true that unless guilty sinners also repent and come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they too will one day join them there. Heed the warning! Remember the words of the godly men of old who exclaimed, as they watched prisoners being led to their execution, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’