Jeffrey Dahmer was arguably one of the most heinous serial killers of our time; he mercilessly drugged, strangled and raped, dismembered and cannibalized at least 17 men. When convicted in 1991, no punishment seemed befitting regarding the magnitude of his deplorable crimes. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to 16 terms of life imprisonment. However, yesterday, I found out that this vile creature was dipped in the cleansing water of God's Grace as he was believed to have put his faith in Jesus Christ. He was baptized by Roy Ratcliff in 1994 and upon hearing this news, my knee-jerk reaction was stomach turning. A beast of a man, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, deserved nothing but destruction yet the Holy Spirit reminded me that God's Grace abounds. Just shortly before his baptism Dahmer allegedly asked the question that any sinner marred by guilt and grief would utter, "Is heaven for me too?"
In other words, can the very lowest of lows, the most heinous of all the heinous, the most deplorable of the deplorable lift up their eyes to the hill where their help comes from? Does forgiveness work for them? Does radical grace cleanse even the cannibal? No matter how uncomfortable we are with the subject, the scriptures reveal that the answer is a resounding yes!
When people question Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors he said to them, "Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
When the twisted thought of Jeffrey Dahmer's undeserving state crosses my mind, it is quickly countered by the representation of longsuffering that Paul presents in 1 Timothy 1:15-16. "This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners' – and I am the worst of them! But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.
In his book, Dark Journey, Deep Grace Rev. Roy Ratcliff describes the moments leading up to Dahmer's baptism. As is his practice, Ratcliff had to make sure that Dahmer understood the effect of surrendering to Christ and being baptized, and Dahmer is quoted having said, "Oh yes I know it washes away my sins. If anyone needed to have his sins washed away, it is me! In fact, I am looking forward to it and counting on it."
I wonder how many of us truly perceive the exceptional demonstration of God's love poured out by his grace towards us? While no man can truly know the intention of Jeffrey Dahmer's heart, his words ring clear. He knew he was the worst of all sinners, he knew that he needed someone to wash away his sins and not only did he truly believe in regeneration through Christ he says he was "counting on it." Shortly after his baptism Jeffrey Dahmer was killed by a fellow inmate, however when Rev. Ratcliff retells the story of his baptism he recounts the moment Jeffrey's body broke through the surface of the prison whirlpool, and he said to him, " Welcome to the family of God!" Ratcliff says, "He looked at me with a smile of gladness and surprise and simply said, 'Thank you."
Even with all of my theological training, the expression of God's grace extended to the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer leaves me in awe of a God who knows no limits. I ask you, friends, if our Lord can extend grace to a serial killer, what can separate us from the love of Christ? Romans 8:38-39 provides us the answer which should urge us to deep thankfulness as we ponder God's deep grace.
"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39