Is Jesus able to save even the most vile sinner?
Warning: graphic content ahead.
My question is this: are some people such horrific and evil sinners that they are beyond being saved? Are there such diabolical monsters out there who have committed such repulsive and reprehensible sins that they cannot be saved? Are some people simply irredeemable?
Most Christians would likely answer these questions with a resounding no. They would argue that of course Jesus is able to save anyone – even the most despicable and demonised sinners. We have plenty of such stories from the past two thousand years. They would rightly say that Jesus came to save sinners. Consider just a few passages on this:
Mark 2:17 Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
Luke 5:32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 Timothy 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
Hebrews 7:25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
Christ came into the world to save sinners. That is the clear teaching of the New Testament. So why write about this? Some people might think an article like this is a no-brainer. Why even ask such foolish questions? We KNOW that Jesus is in the business of saving sinners and transforming lives. But still, some folks might have some legitimate questions that can come up here.
For example, the issue of deathbed conversions arises. What about those who have been terrible and horrific sinners who lived their whole lives doing really evil things? Can they get saved in the last days or weeks or months of their lives? Again, most Christians would answer in the affirmative, although most would rightly caution against waiting till you are at death’s door to try to get right with God.
That is not the best way to proceed. NOW is the day of salvation. NOW is the time to get right with God. And believers can still wonder about some hard cases. What about some monster like Hitler? Was it possible that in his bunker in his last hours he could have repented and turned to Christ, and therefore will be with us in heaven forever?
Again, this is something most believers would say is at least theoretically possible, but many might start having some doubts here. Hitler forgiven? Indeed, consider some of the worst sinners in history who did so much evil, be they more recent tyrants like Hitler or Stalin or Mao, or older figures like Caligula or Attila the Hun or Jack the Ripper. Could they be saved?
Again, why write about all this? Often when I pen a piece there was something that triggered it. Some recent event may have spurred me on to write an article. That is the case with this piece. Two recent matters concerning one person have led me to think and write about this.
Last night on television a documentary about American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was on, and I managed to view some short portions of it. Most people have heard of the ‘Milwaukee Monster’. All up 17 men and boys were murdered by him between 1978 and 1991. Some were sexually abused and tortured. After they were killed most were dismembered and cannibalised! Necrophilia was even involved.
He has also been spoken about a lot lately because of a recent controversy. A new Netflix series about him seems to have succumbed to the forces of wokism and political correctness: “Netflix removed the LGBTQ tag from its new true crime show ‘Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’ after receiving backlash over the categorization. The Netflix show about Jeffrey Dahmer, a gay man who murdered 17 men from 1978 to 1991, is no longer filed under the tag on the streaming service.” www.fox16.com/news/national-news/netflix-removes-dahmer-lgbtq-tag-after-user-backlash/
Um, a guy who is attracted to and has sex with guys is a homosexual. But today we are not allowed to call anyone who is clearly evil personified a homosexual. That however is not the issue I wish to discuss here. What I am interested in talking about is how Dahmer seems to have converted to Christ at the end of his life.
The background is this: on July 22, 1991 he was about to kill his 18th victim, but he managed to escape and alert the police. He was arrested that day, and on February 15, 1992 he was judged to be not insane, and was found guilty of 15 murders. He was sentenced to life in prison. But on November 28, 1994 another inmate bashed him to death.
However, what is of interest is what happened in the last few years of his life. He asked for a Bible, he became a born-again Christian, and he was baptised. But this is where things can get hairy. Again, most believers would say God is able to save the most horrific of individuals. And Dahmer certainly was horrific in every sense of the term.
But what about the friends and family of his victims? Would they really believe he was now a changed man? When Dahmer was asked that very question, he agreed that if he were them he would not believe the story either. One can understand how those so terribly impacted by this man and his crimes would be fully sceptical, and refuse to believe him or forgive him.
More than one person has stated outright that if Dahmer is in heaven, they do not want to be there. In the same way, many have felt that they could never countenance a God who forgave someone like Hitler. One can certainly understand sentiments like these.
But it is the biblical and theological aspect that we must finish with. On the one hand we all rejoice that Jesus came to save sinners, and no cases are too hard for him. (The matter of the unforgivable sin which Scripture discusses in a few places will be touched on here. One day I will complete and post a piece I started on this!)
On the other hand however all believers should have a strong sense of justice. We WANT to see evil punished and we want to see justice served. So one can understand how a believer can be of two minds here: we delight in a God who saves, but we also delight in a God who is a God of justice and will not let the guilty go unpunished.
But the work of Christ at Calvary is the unique and amazing answer to this dilemma. Yes, God loves sinners, but yes, God hates sin. So how do these things harmonise? Well, God did enact punishment. But he allowed his own innocent son to take our punishment so that guilty sinners can be pardoned and forgiven – IF they repent and come to Christ in faith.
So there is still divine justice taking place, and punishment is still meted out. But it is done in such a way that the pardon that we do not deserve is made available to us. Wrath and mercy fully meet at Calvary. God’s standards of justice are NOT reduced one iota. But God’s desire to save sinners is also made possible.
This is the wonder of Christ and his work on the cross. It is amazing love and amazing grace. And it is also amazing justice. All are found in what Christ did for sinners.
For further reading
There are a number of books now out on Dahmer, including one that looks at his conversion: the 2006 volume by Roy Ratcliff and Lindy Adams: Dark Journey Deep Grace: Jeffrey Dahmer’s Story of Faith. See the link above.