Kenneth Williams was serving a life sentence for killing a cheerleader. He escaped in 1999 and was involved in a traffic wreck which killed a man named Michael Greenwood. Williams then killed another man, Cecil Boren, while on the run. He was executed last night by the state of Arkansas for murdering Boren.
Michael Greenwood’s daughter, Kayla Greenwood, learned a few days ago that Williams had a twenty-one-year-old daughter he had not seen for seventeen years and a three-year-old granddaughter he had never met. Kayla’s mother then bought plane tickets so Williams’s daughter and granddaughter could fly from Washington state to Arkansas to see him a day before his execution.
Kayla Greenwood sent a message to Williams through his attorney: “I told him we forgive him and where I stood on it.” When Williams found out what they were doing, “he was crying to the attorney.”
Here’s the rest of the story.
Williams told an interviewer that he has been “stabilized and sustained by the inner peace and forgiveness I’ve received through a relationship with Jesus Christ.” He chose to appear before a prison review board, not because he expected to receive clemency but “so I could show them I was no longer the person I once was. God has transformed me, and even the worst of us can be reformed and renewed. Revealing these truths meant more to me than being granted clemency. I’m still going to eventually die someday, but to stand up for God in front of man, that’s my victory.”
No one is beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, my emphasis). Do you see any loopholes or ambiguity here? If “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), are any sinners exempt from his grace?
However, the body of Christ is often the means by which we experience the grace of Christ. We are called to pardon those who sin against us because we have been pardoned and to demonstrate such grace to the world. It’s harder to believe that Christ forgives us if Christians won’t forgive us. It’s easier to believe that the Father loves us if his children love us.
In a graceless culture that measures us by what we do and how we look, agape love is a powerful and lasting witness. Our benevolence and unity point others to the One we love and serve (John 13:35).
St. Gaudentius of Brescia (died AD 410) explained that the bread of the Lord’s Supper is an appropriate connection to his body “because, as there are many grains of wheat in the flour from which bread is made by mixing it with water and baking it with fire, so also we know that many members make up the one body of Christ which is brought to maturity by the fire of the Holy Spirit.” Gaudentius extended the metaphor to the cup as well: “Similarly, the wine of Christ’s blood, drawn from the many grapes of the vineyard that he had planted, is extracted in the wine-press of the cross.”
Our broken culture measures Christ by Christians. Who is your Kenneth Williams?