By Dr. Harold Sala

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23

Thomas Lewis Turner was well liked and respected.  Everybody in his neighborhood knew him by name.  He mentored young people, had encouraging words for those who were down, and seemingly did what he could to make the world a better place.  He and his wife and family were in church every Sunday.  He taught Sunday school and was the chairman of the finance committee.  “The Turners were the personification of the perfect family–loving and church-going,” was the way a newspaper report put it in an article captioned, “Family man’s fatal flaw!”  So what happened which so shocked the community?

casings-818868_1280This successful 38-year-old loan officer turned a gun on his wife Acedra, his 15-year-old nephew, and his 22-month-old daughter, Alycia, before he took his own life.  (Susan Vardon and Jim Radcliffe, “Family man’s fatal flaw,” O.C. Register, June 23, 2002, 1, 4).

“Yeah, those guys who go to church are no different from anybody else,” say some when something like this happens; yet whether you are a skeptic or a brother who is aghast at what a Baptist Sunday school official has done, the question stares us in the face–Why?  Did his faith mean nothing to him?  Was he psychologically unbalanced?  Did he snap?  “Lewis was a church-going man and always talked about the Lord and how good God was.  What made him flip like that?” asked his sister, Gwen Turner.

After his death, character flaws began to paint a dark picture which helped explain his inexcusable, terrible behavior.  He had fathered a child his wife knew nothing about.  There was a pattern of violence in his family among his siblings.  Yet the question persists, “Was his faith only a social front?”  When he sat through Sunday services in the Baptist church he attended, did he hear nothing of the message?  Had he so darkened his heart that the spirit of God ceased to woo and convict him?

But then how account for Osama bin Laden, or Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, or the long list of butchers in the world who did on a grand scale what Thomas Turner did on a smaller one?

Though we dislike facing it, there is an answer, but what makes us uncomfortable is that in accepting the answer we also condemn ourselves.  The Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Sin, unconfessed and unforsaken, becomes a cancer that erodes decency, common sense, and civility.  But in recognizing the cause we also acknowledge that while the extent of our sin may differ, the quality of it is just the same.  The word “all” is inclusive.  Paul adds, “None are righteous!”

But there is good news!  In the dictum about sin that Paul gave us there is the light of dawn as he says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  It is this that transforms the beast into a gracious, compassionate individual.

The sad reality is that many who go through the motions of a Christian experience which may include serving on boards, committees, and participating in church functions, have never experienced the grace of God that transforms our darkness.  The fact remains that going to church no more makes you a Christian than going to a garage makes you an automobile.  What counts is a relationship with Jesus Christ, not a membership in a church or religious organization.  Long ago God said, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool'” (Isaiah 1:18).  It is this that transforms our hearts and makes us new–this and only this really works.

Resource reading: Romans 3.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The original title of this article was HOW COULD HE DO IT?