Thursday, June 7, 2007

Total Depravity and the Kelsey Smith Murder

Most of the nation has heard of the horrific murder of newly graduated Kelsey Smith of Overland Park, the same city our church is in. Kelsey was coming out of a local Target store when a man abducted her and eventually strangled her to death, leaving her body near Grandview, Missouri. I have seen interviews with Kelsey's family and they break my heart. At the same time, I am amazed at the poise and grace her family has shown at this devastating time. I have been told the Smith family are members of Hillcrest Covenant Church and trust Christ.

I won't pretend to make sense of this. I am as mad as anyone this could happen. It is so wrong. How can human beings be so wicked as to perpetrate such a crime, especially in a seemingly random way?

It was eery watching the surveillance video of the suspected killer leaving the Target store shortly before the youthful Smith. He likely timed his exit to be in a place of ambush when Kelsey came out. I've seen the mugshots of this suspected killer, identified as Edwin Hall. He is a man who is married with one young son. I don't know if he is indeed the killer, however, in addition to the video evidence and an apparently incriminating "" page, the criminal complaint already lists over 100 potential witnesses that could be called in some capacity to convict this man. More witnesses will likely be identified before a trial begins and I suspect there's a bunch of forensic evidence lining up against him as I write. He looks strange- vacant eyes, stone cold expression, but evil?

Such a case shakes me at a human level. At first, I get furious with the individual-whom I don't even know- who has apparently done such a wicked thing. Honestly, I'm still at that point on this one. Eventually though, I start to assess the general wickedness of mankind because of sin, then the radical corruption of my own heart. I begin to wonder how wicked I would be- what evil things I would do- if it were not for my redemption through Christ and God the Holy Spirit now indwelling me. I can do some pretty sinful things this side of regeneration, what would I be like if not for the saving, changing, grace of God? I shutter to think. Still, even then, the level of wickedness the killer of Kelsey has gone- by God's grace- is relatively rare.

I am drawn to Scripture and the clear, undeniable teaching that must be considered afresh. Every person (besides Christ) is born bad. We are sinful, evil, and totally depraved. Sin corrupts the whole person- the emotions, will, and intellect. No part of us is untouched by sin. Union with Christ by faith breaks the power of sin over us, but even then, in a moment of surrender to the old nature, believer's can do some horrendous things. How anyone could have an optimistic view of man's nature by reading the bible or observing reality is beyond me. Scripture is lucid on this point, we see it most vividly early in Genesis-

Genesis 6:5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

What is man like? "the thoughts of his heart were only evil continually." This is the truth about mankind. Sending the flood to wipe out man didn't change the sinfulness of man, it only delayed the spread of evil and thwarted the devil's attack on the Messianic Seed. Man has not changed. Apart from the saving action of God, a person will live out all manner of evil in his or her life. Some will be worse than others , like Kelsey's killer, but all will be continually given over to various sins. After Noah's Ark rested and a burnt offering was given to the Lord, notice God's Word-

Genesis 8:21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done."

The total depravity of man is a constant, honest, refrain in Scripture:

Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things,and desperately sick;who can understand it?

Really, if we are honest about the condition of man, no acts of wickedness are out of the question. It is only the grace of God that restrains evil from causing total sinful anarchy. While I hope we never grow shocked at crimes like this, such atrocities should cause us to do an honest evaluation of how bad our collective sin problem really is.

Paul's inspired words to the Ephesians (and to us) really give us the answer we need-

Ephesians 2:1-10 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The solution to our depravity (and the sure judgment it will bring) is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. The solution to society's manifold wickedness is the transformation of people by God through Christ. The Kelsey Smith murder should cause us to confess our sins and throw ourselves upon Christ anew. We need Jesus, each of us individually and all of us collectively. As John Newton is credited with saying- we are great sinners but Christ is a great Savior. More than that even, according to Ephesians 2 above, He is the great transformer.

When I see the expressionless mugshot of Edwin Hall:

1. I remember the pictures of Kelsey I have seen and the absolute hideousness of what he has allegedly done.

2. I get mad at him. I get mad at all such evil. I grieve for his wife and child.

3. I pray for Kelsey's family and friends, this is an unspeakably difficult time for them and a permanent hurt going forward, even with the joyful knowledge that Kelsey is with Christ according to those who knew her relationship with the Lord.

4. I realize there is a fine line between me and Edwin Hall. The difference is Christ.

5. I/we must be about introducing people to Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can remedy human depravity.


Frontier Forest said...

I know Pastor Tony’s thoughts and words were set before the Lord and well prayed over. May the Lord take his thoughts and use them to bring us comfort in the midst of such confusion and pain. We all have expressed outrage at such unthinkable depravity. But few can share in horrible suffering the Smith family has had to endure.
The peace and the fellowship of suffering the Smith family continues to communicate, is a testimony that all of us can hold to. But we only know in part. God’s Son, our Savior understands the depth of the Smith’s sufferings. So as we hold fast unto Him, may this be our confession. I Peter 4:12,
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trail which is to try you, as thought some strange things happened to you alone. (13) But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when HIS glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (14) If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
4 thoughts the holy Scriptures express that strengthens and helps me build righteous attitudes about suffering.
1. Expect to suffer (12)
2. Rejoice, even in the midst of
trials (13)
3. Our attitude now yields
eternal rewards of exceeding
joy (13)
4. God Spirit and His glory
always rests upon us (14)
May we all well remember Pastor Tony’s closing thought. “We must be about introducing people to Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can remedy human depravity.”

Phantom495 said...

Well spoken Tony! Over these last few days, with the ridicuous amount of attention paid to Paris Hilton; my trip to Disney World and an area of the country fraught with depravity, over-indulgence of children and, this past week, the honoring of behavior which is stated in Scripture as an abomination (sexual sin, e.g. homosexuality), I am struck by the complete and utter depravity of carnal man. It points me to my own sinful heart and convicts me, while at the same time draws me to my saviour! By grace alone am I saved from my own hateful, wretched sinful heart. But God...

JON MEYERS said...

I don't have nearly the profound thoughts posted above, but I agree with all them. We need to look at ourselves in light of what has transpired in the horrendous murder. We have to hold strong to the truth proclaimed in Romans 5:8 -

"but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Qayaq said...

It is interesting, I have just been reading "Calvin's Institutes" in the section on sin. He states emphatically that as the result of the fall we are all wholly corrupt, from the top of our head to the bottom of our feet, even to the depths of our heart and mind.
This is contrary to what "pop"psychology and the modern church says which is that if we look deep enough we will find good, we just need a little help or the right guide.
In reality, this means the only thing that can save us is Christ's righteousness imputed onto us.
I was watching a documentary about Hitler where they found some old movies about him just walking around his Eagle's Nest talking to people and playing with his dogs, laughing and generally looking happy and a sense he looked just like the rest of us. This perplexed them because they expected him to be evil in everything he did, but mostly he acted "normal." The people who made the documentary made the comment that if Hitler can act this way when no one is watching, maybe we all have the same tendancies in us that he had in him...Hmmm.

Presbyscopalian said...

Is your view of total depravity that the image of God in man is contaminated is every aspect, like drops of poison in a well, or that as per Luther man is now in the image of the devil, like a bucket of sludge?

The institutions God gave us are noticeably absent in Edwin Hall's life. Foster child, and into horror movies/metal music (a person's CD collection is their true theology). The last line of defense for society against his evil is the sword wielded by the government, which thankfully will keep him physically separated from us the rest of his life.

AJF said...

Yes, your first description of TD best describes my thoughts.

Not sure if my CD collection necessarily reflects my theology...always been a metal fan.