Last week the newspapers were screaming ‘Lock him up. One headline said “I believe in redemption but Bulger’s killer is beyond hope”.
In my teens I attended a little Mission Hall in Seaforth, which is just south of Bootle, Liverpool. So when the images appeared on TV in 1993 of little James Bulger being led through the Bootle Shopping Centre, to his horrific death beside a nearby railway track, I knew it well. There are not many murder trials that I have followed but this was one of them as the details emerged of 2-year old James Bulger’s violent death inflicted by two 10 year old boys called Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. The judge described the violence and torture they inflicted on James Bulger as ‘unparalleled evil and barbarity’.
Because our law offers the chance of rehabilitation and redemption, in 2001, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were released and given new identities. Robert Thompson has never been heard of again and I assume he has rehabilitated back into society. Jon Venables was arrested in 2008 for affray and cocaine possession. Two years later he pleaded guilty to downloading images of child abuse. Now, after 25 years and £25 million spent on him, he has re-offended yet again. It would appear that the system cannot change his life. It is not able to rehabilitate or redeem him.
The cry now is for him to be locked up and for the key to be thrown away. I sympathize with those who make such calls. But let’s not forget that in addition to redemption through the law, he also needs redemption through the cross. Even to the thief, who was crucified next to the Lord, Christ held out the hope of redemption when he told him, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’. Being locked in a cell for a number of years is one thing, but being locked in to a Christ-less eternity is something different.
Do pray for James Bulger’s parents. They need our prayers to manage to live through each day. But also if you have time pray for James Bulger’s murderers. Their only hope is to be redeemed – not just in the law’s eyes - but in God’s as well.
By Gordon Pettie