It had just rained. Steam rose from the pavement. As soon as I walked out of the air-conditioned building, I felt as though I had walked into a rainforest.
This is a frequent feeling in Florida, especially after rain falls. I walked along a boardwalk situated just feet above a damp, swampy marsh and reached a deck on the end, looking onto a lake. The sounds of frogs and birds played as the hum of the freeway could be heard in the distance. I sat down, alone, on the damp wood staring at my phone, waiting to hear the fate of something I’ve earnestly and whole-heartedly prayed about for the last twenty-five months.
With every slight blow of the wind, droplets fell from the trees and onto the screen of my phone. And every minute or so, each verdict was read, leading up to that final moment: the sentence. Life in prison without parole or death.
Tears streamed down my face as I said out loud, “Please Jesus. Please.” Please God. Don’t let them do this. Don’t let them give this precious man a sentence of death.
As someone who has, for a long time, been a strong supporter of the death penalty, I have never so badly wished for a life sentence. But for some reason, from the moment I first saw the picture of this man in the grainy survellience tapes released by the FBI, I have wanted nothing more than to see him turn his life around, even if it is in prison, and feel remorseful while being redeemed by the blood shed by Jesus. I have wanted nothing more than to see this man in heaven one day, and to be able to call him my brother for eternity.
And that’s what I’ve prayed. Nearly every day for the last two years and one month, I have earnestly prayed for his man, for his heart, for his soul, for his mind, for his family–for everything, all to lead up to his eventual faith and salvation in our one true God and His Son.
My thought process was: if Dzhokhar (“Jahar”) spends his life in prison, it will essentially buy him more time on this earth, thus more time to make that turn and receive that redemption he so desperately needs. If he dies, unchanged, that’s it. There are no second chances. He needed all the time he could get to remain on this earth, and if that meant life in prison, then that’s what he would get.
I have almost always taken the side of the prosecution in every last case I’ve ever studied, followed, and read. For crying out loud, I almost went to law school to become a prosecutor so I could personally play a huge part in helping convict these criminals who, by all accounts, I believed certainly deserve death for what they’ve done (should it be a capital offense). And even though this man has done heinous, awful, terrible things, I never once believed the death penalty was justified for him. Not for a second.
People often ask me, “Why him?” Why do I feel so strongly about wishing the best for him, when my past shows I always want “the worst” for others? I don’t have an answer to that, because all I can say, without a doubt in my mind, is God has placed this tremendous love for him within my heart. God has placed it within me to pray for this man, to pray for his salvation, and to pray for his redemption. Because if we’re being honest here: I have never wished that for a convicted criminal until now.
God has shown me, over the last two years, just a small fraction of a percentage of how he feels toward people like Tsarnaev, like Emwazi, and like bin Laden. He’s shown me a small portion of the love He feels for these people and the sadness He feels when they have not only rejected Him, but they’ve caused pain and hurt onto so many others undeserving of it. He’s shown me His desire for all of His creation to come to Him, no matter what they’ve done on this earth. There is nothing He won’t forgive, whether it’s placing a bomb at a marathon, killing three innocent people including a child. Whether it’s cutting off the heads of innocent prisoners solely for your own selfish “religious” purpose. Whether it’s flying commercial airplanes into buildings, killing thousands of people. It does not matter. God forgives it all, and to Him, there is no “worse” sin than another. It’s all the same to Him, no matter how trivial we may think our “little sins” are on the “scale of sin” we as humans have conjured up in our heads–it’s all the same to Him.
And that’s where I have a serious problem with the “earthy punishment justification” this world and this country, especially, has developed in recent years, especially living in a world so saturated with terrorism. Because the fact of the matter is this: all sins are the same to God; He has no scale. Our punishment as humans for all of the sins we’ve committed in our lifetime is death. So who are we, as a society, as humans even, to say one sin is worse than another and therefore, justified to kill another human being because they’ve reached “the top of the sin scale”? Who are we do that? Who are we to decide someone’s sin is worth paying for with their own life?
So there it was. The sentence, at the end of the twenty-four page verdict form: death.
I cried out to God, “No. No. NOOOOO!” I screamed. I fell to the ground, my body draped over my legs. I struggled to breathe I cried so hard. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t believe twelve men and women had unanimously decided it was appropriate that this man–this precious man, created in the image of our God–would pay for this horrific crime with his life. How could this be true?
My face was covered in mascara and eyeliner. I tried to wipe it away, but it didn’t matter. Perhaps the heat and the moisture outside was quickly baking it into my skin. Shaking with fear, sadness, and struggling to breathe, I walked down the boardwalk, back into the building, unable to control my sobs. “No, no God,” I kept saying. “He can’t die. He can’t die for this.”
But according to the verdict from that jury, he will. After everything. After all of my prayers, my cries to God, my begging Him to instill some love and compassion into those jurors — it just didn’t happen.
Through this journey God has called me on, and I’ve followed Him, I’ve met others who feel the exact same love in their heart for Jahar as I do. People who, all over this country, all have the exact same story. Just like me, they didn’t choose this; God chose them. God placed this love, passion, and desire within their hearts just as He’s done for me. I remember one of the first things one of them said to me after we “met” was she thought maybe the death penalty is what Jahar needs to bring him to salvation, out of sheer desperation, being imminently faced with death with an execution date looming over his head. While I agreed, I never believed it would come to that. I never believed he would get the death penalty because I had believed all this time he was going to be spared from it. And now–it is what he’s facing. Maybe it will be ten years from now, maybe it will be twenty years from now, and maybe I’ll never know his own fate until I die myself, but I will never stop praying for his redemption, forgiveness that comes through our Father, and most importantly: his salvation through Jesus.