Let’s call the person N. I first met him about 25 years ago, when he was the secretary of an organisation of which I am a member. He was energetic and well organised; he did very good work. I got on well with him; he was a somewhat larger-than-life character, perhaps with a short fuse but I was happy to accept the occasional eruption from him. I did notice however that the tantrums started to get more frequent as the years went by; he was starting to become something of an embarrassment to us all. I put this down to ill-health. At this stage, my only contact was via emails and I tried to avoid those. Then suddenly he resigned. At that point we learnt the truth; he had been downloading indecent images of children onto his computer. That resulted in a year in prison. Our paths never crossed again. I was pleased to learn from others his wife stood by him and I hoped that it had been an isolated aberration; that he would reform. I was keen that the organisation did not write him out of its history; he had done good work for us. Unfortunately, out of prison, he reverted back to his former ways; more convictions for the same offence followed. His wife died and his health was clearly failing. In jailing him again, a judge observed that he was past any prospect of reform. Then the truly appalling crime came to light; some years before he had raped a child. A few weeks ago, he died in prison, shortly after starting a lengthy sentence for this act.
Cases like this bring into sharp focus two opposing strands in Christianity. On one hand we are called to love, to show forgiveness and mercy. On the other we are called to work for justice. I cannot offer forgiveness to N for crimes he did not commit against myself; I would not presume to tell his victim that she should forgive him. She is a victim who needs support and part of this is that she gets justice; the prison sentence that N was serving was just. But what is not possible for humanity is possible for God. If N admitted his wickedness (for his actions were wicked) and truly repented, then he would be forgiven by God. I have no idea if this happened; even if it did, the church has learnt the hard way that sex offenders can easily revert back to their evil ways. We can minister to these people as best we can, but always aware that we cannot fully trust them. Safeguarding protocols are important. In any case, for myself it is irrelevant, N is dead. But what is not irrelevant is how I respond in prayer to this event. All I could pray was that God would deal mercifully with him. In the face of evil, I am not sure there is much else we can do, but to trust in God the just judge, for whom all things are possible.