This young man, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly committed an act of inexplicable evil. We have to start there. I was as fixated as anyone as I listened to the radio last Friday, marveling that a whole city could be locked down, praying that they would catch the bad guy before anyone else got hurt.
They found him, bleeding, half-dead, half a mile from where he'd abandoned the car-jacked SUV so many hours earlier. Suddenly I saw in my mind's eye not a terror suspect, but a nineteen year old kid. What was he thinking during all those hours? I don't imagine he knew that Boston had been effectively closed on his account. Did he know his brother was dead? I expect he was terrified, maybe hoping to die.
Somewhere, once, in a town very far from here, this man was a boy and before that a baby. Someone cradled him in her arms, nursed him, patted him, kissed his soft head, caressed him. He was innocent.
How does such a thing happen? How does innocence turn to hatred and violence and cruelty? If he is guilty, this man, barely past his own childhood, has ravaged the innocence of so many others who believed that the world was safe, only to come face to face with chaos reminiscent of a war zone.
It's easier, so much easier, if we can label Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as some sort of monster, sub-human. It's easier to blame his religion or country-of-origin -- anything to distance ourselves from him. He's not like us.
But of course, he is just like us. He has a family and friends. He went to school and to parties. And, in all likelihood, he helped to make and plant bombs that killed three people and maimed so many others. How are we to reconcile it all?
Perhaps it is natural to react with a wish for vengeance. We look at this man and desire nothing more than to punish him for his crimes. But, as Jim Wallis tweeted earlier today, the Biblical meaning of justice is "making things right." What would it take to make what happened in Boston, in any imaginable sense, "right"?
The state will seek to prosecute Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. They will, I imagine, ask not only that he be found guilty, but that he be put to death on account of his guilt. Some people will say that only his death will make things right.
I do not see how the death of a 19 year old boy, however vicious his crime, balances the scales of justice. It does not restore to life the five people, including the other alleged perpetrator, who are dead as a result of this episode of senseless violence. Only Jesus can restore to life Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi, Krystle Campbell, and Sean Collier. Only in resurrection life will the dozens of people who lost limbs be made whole. Killing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will not accomplish any sort of restoration.
What's more, and here's the piece that may be hard to swallow, Jesus can also restore Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Jesus can redeem whatever it is in this young man that is so broken, whatever allowed him to cooperate with evil.
Do we believe that? Do we believe in a God who offers redemption to the same souls that call for and abet his crucifixion? Who bleeds and dies to save the lives of the ones who nailed him to the cross? Do we believe that as much as Jesus died with those innocents who died, he died too with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a bomb strapped to his chest? Do we believe that as Jesus weeps and suffers with the dismembered in their hospital beds, he suffered too with the bleeding boy in the boat?
I hope if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is guilty that he goes to jail. But I hope too that he lives long enough to experience the love that frees us from evil. I hope that he is transformed from sinner to repentant sinner. I believe in a God who can do that. I believe in a God who can use this mayhem, which God in no way wills, for some final good. That is why I am praying for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.