Tsarnaev The Dead Terrorist

**As an acknowledgment, in this blog particularly, but also for other posts I might put up, I am going to be using vocabulary/terms that are comfortable for me and describe my own experience of faith.  I am truly thankful for anyone who takes the time to read my words, no matter what vocabulary or terms you use, your experience of faith or your experience of not having faith.  I want you dear reader to feel like you can comment as your authentic self with the language that leaves you feeling good! I love you! Now on to the post : ) ***

"To do evil that good may come of it is contrary to the doctrine of Christianity; that when times are so cloudy that we cannot go forward in the way of clearness and purity, it behooves us in the depth of humility to wait on the Lord to know his mind concerning us and our children.'-John Woolman

Thou Shalt Not Kill. 

I hear that commandment exactly quoted more than any of the 10 from the Old Testament.  It is a short sentence that can ring with authority when I say it out loud, and moves me to a strange place of reverence that I do not understand.  However, my understanding of this instruction has changed drastically over the course of my lifetime, and as I journey along in my faith as a Quaker.  

I was young, I think I was in the 4th Grade,  when I raised my first serious concern about those words to my Sunday School teacher.

"Teacher, if one of the commandments is "Thou Shalt Not Kill"...how is something like the death penalty ok for us to do?"

"That is a very good question A.J., and you definitely aren't the first to ask it.  The interesting part about that verse is that it is more accurately translated as 'thou shalt not commit murder'.  So, it is the condemned in death penalty cases that have actually broken God's law, and our God is just in His judgements."

With those words the conflicted lines across my face relaxed, and I was completely at ease as a dark shade was invited to cover a part of my soul, one that would not be pulled back again until I was at least 19.

I want YOU...to consider this justice. 

I am writing this blog today after returning home from a week between Kansas City Missouri and Phoenix Arizona. Shortly after turning my phone on after landing at PDX, I was heartbroken to see that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Bomber, had been sentenced to death by lethal injection.

I believe that the Creator is absolutely heartbroken about this too.

How many people in this country have I lost by writing this sentence?  How many Christians have just written me off as a borderline treasonous, un-patriotic, terrorist sympathizer?  There is no way that I sitting on this end of the keyboard will ever know for sure, but I am suspect after the comments I have seen regarding the story, that they are legion.

There have been many who have actively stepped forward to say this decision is proper justice.  What I have seen more often though, is people simply reacting with a version of, "I'm not very surprised".

It makes me sad that saying that is a type of thinking that is described as "realistic".  The real reality of the entire situation, the WHOLE story, is that love, grace, and mercy are high truths.  Injustice, cruelty, oppression...are not high truths at the end of this day and all days.  They are shams, lies that have been unfortunately bought into for too long.  Let us be very surprised whenever and wherever we see them try to assert themselves as truths, and send love, grace, and mercy back as fierce defiance.

Ok...*deep breath*...stepping away from the soapbox for a moment haha... For myself, one of my frequent prayers is to stay surprised by this kind of stuff, stay horrified by it, keep asking questions about it, and be unrelenting in my compassionate desires to mend it.

I realize that I am living in a time when everything is very far away from how it should be, but I have faith that eventually we will get there together.

For me, the thing that I see humans do most often that reminds me of our being image bearers of the Creator...is in our desire to create.

I see it when someone throws a clay mug on a wheel and uses their hands to mold and give away a gift.  I see it when a baby creates a moment of wonder for themselves and grabs their own feet to pull towards their face and giggle.  I see it when people create meaningful relationships that are completely voluntary.  Out of nothing, something. We do this in so many ways...and we do it all. the. time. 

I am filled with so much faith when I see humans dream and create, and become ever more amazed by the Creator that we bear the image of.

However...while we are image bearers....we are not gods.

We desire to be gods.  It is our first reported temptation, and we make it evident when we choose to execute others that it is still with us.  We must eventually deal with our desire to be gods and take life,  but I don't deny that pulling up the deep roots of this desire won't be a painful venture for us.  I am not convinced in the slightest that I have the objectivity, knowledge, or right to ever decide that the life of the other sitting across the table from me must end.  I am similarly unconvinced of the claimed "sovereignty" of the wanna-be gods to make that call.

Thou shalt not kill.

Those close to me have given me honest feedback to consider how I would feel if someone I knew personally was affected by the bombing.  Consider what I would do if my own family had metal and heat rip into their bodies before dying that day in Boston.  How would I feel if I had to be the one to provide care as my best friend learns to walk again after they lost a limb that day? I have been looking through the pictures of the dead and injured, reading little snippets of their stories, and see so many precious souls.

I am unsure how I would feel in another's shoes....but I can conceive of wanting death for Tsarnaev.  I would be being less than honest to say otherwise.

I don't have any authority to be a condemning judge on the feelings of those others who have experienced the direct pain of the blasts, but when I look at Tsarnaevs face, the message I receive is clear...I am similarly not in a place of authority to be his condemning judge.  I am not a god. 

The crux of the entire Christian tradition is love.  Without love, I think its a bunk cross stamped pill that we are pushing.  Mercy. Grace. Redemption. Forgiveness...these are the words we parrot amongst ourselves, but living them are things we need to keep moving towards.  I implore any person seeking a life of faithfulness to the Creator who is reading this and is in favor of the death penalty, to imagine what giving up our dominion regarding death might look like.  I understand the fear and uncertainty that asking that question could possibly cause, but for something as important as this, it should not be a thing that we are unwilling to at least ask.

Perhaps...we are afraid that to pull back the shade of death off our society...will fill us with the grief of how long we have put up with it amongst us...I also inclined to believe that will happen.  It will be emotional, embarrassing, and filled with deep sadness from all around, but I am inclined to believe that we will find healing at the end of it.

Eventually, I believe.

We shall not kill.


  1. AJ - thank you for your reflection. Like you, I asked adults in my life about the apparent conflict between the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" and the death penalty and got no satisfactory answer. I, too, am saddened in this case and every death penalty situation. Through Grace, we strive for the perfection of Love, and pray to love even those who have done heinous things. Through Grace may Tsarnaev be healed - and through Grace may we be healed of the rationalizations that purport to support society taking the life of any convicted murderer.

    1. Thank you for this prayer Lesley, may grace rain fill us all and flow through us into the world.



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