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1st January, 2007

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Saddam Hussein's hanging: that's one

The last day of 2006 will be remembered by almost everybody for one event only — Saddam Hussein, the “butcher of Baghdad”, dropped to an instant death when the gallows trapdoor fell open. No surprise, the news met with wildly mixed responses. His supporters were livid, his enemies jubilant, and many millions of people around the world, even some normally opposed to capital punishment, felt satisfied that at last, after so many others had got off scot-free, a murdering monster had been brought to book and got what he deserved. Or did he?

Like many Dawn to Dusk readers, I have been horrified by his vile reign for decades. Do you remember the photos of bloated bodies of women and children in Halabja, cut down where they stood or sat by a murderous mist of poison gas ordered by Hussein in March, 1988? I recall hearing how he slew one of his own ministers over some grievance, had has body cut up, stuffed into a plastic bag, and sent to the man's widow. He even murdered two of his sons-in-law. Gilbert and Sullivan's light opera, “The Mikado”, contains the profound words, “Let the punishment fit the crime”. Does the snapping of his neck and instant unconsciousness truly fit the enormity of the crimes Hussein committed? Hardly! Hussein was directly responsible for the torture and deaths of untold thousands of people, including men, women and children, not to mention the indirect suffering and death brought upon many thousands more by his draining of the southern marshlands in the 90s.

Saddam Hussein is only one of a litany of nasty pieces of work through the ages. How many more people experienced misery, grief, and death at the hands of the Joseph Stalins, Adolf Hitlers, Mao Tse Tungs and Pol Pots of history? Will they get off scot-free or will they receive fit punishment for their crimes?

Scripture shows that the wicked will face the perfect justice of Jesus Christ, whom God has appointed the judge of all men (John 5:22); the notion that He will automatically let monsters off the hook because He is so nice and kind doesn't match His own words:

Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city! (Matt. 10:15).

Does the day of judgment consist merely of consigning men and women either to eternal life in the kingdom of God or to final annihilation in Gehenna? Do Jesus' words about tolerability refer to such ultimate passing of sentence, or is there more to it

than that? Note again the words of the perfect Judge:

And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes (Luke 12:47).

Some people who have ignored God will be “beaten with few stripes”, while others who rejected Him and Jesus Christ will be “beaten with more stripes”, whatever exactly those words mean. Jesus Christ is God, and will fulfill Old Testament warnings against the wicked as to how God will deal with them in the day of judgment:

The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. The Lord tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain coals; fire and brimstone and a burning wind s hall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; His countenance beholds the upright (Ps. 11:4-7).

Just as we can wholly put our trust in God's promises of blessings for the righteous, we can be equally confident that He makes no idle threats against the wicked. Obviously, the sentence of “coals, fire and brimstone” against God-haters will not be carried out in the resurrection of the just; the wicked receive their comeuppance in the day of judgment.

And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books (Rev. 20:12).

The day of judgment entails more than passing of the final verdict and sentence. For a period of time the God of justice will “render to all men according to their works” (Prov. 24:12). History's helpless victims will be “set on high from affliction” (Ps. 107:41), while the wicked will be made to live in “a desert… [and] thirsty ground” (vs. 33). As for what will happen to Saddam Hussein and his ilk, we will have to wait and see; but we can be sure his hanging was a mere foretaste of what is to come. The followers of Jesus, already resurrected to glory, will see God's judgment and rejoice (Ps. 107:42). But the God of love wants even the Saddam Husseins in His kingdom! God's perfect judgments have repentance and salvation as their ultimate objective. Eventually, “Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom. 14:11). Unbelievable.


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