Iranian billionaire Babak Zanjani became the latest in a string of wealthy individuals convicted of “corruption on earth,” a capital offense, for corruption and embezzlement. Zanjani was arrested in December 2013 after the government accused him of withholding billions of dollars in oil revenue. That he generated much of that wealth by helping Iran evade oil sanctions under the previous regime apparently didn’t matter.
The government targeted Zanjani, and others like him, after Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013. Rouhani, a moderate, based much of his campaign on rooting out high-level corruption and arrested the former black market dealer a day after ordering his government to fight “financial corruption,” especially among those that had profited by taking “advantage of economic sanctions.” Since the sanctions were lifted in January, such middle-men are now largely expendable as the government can deal directly with potential buyers. Oil minister Bijan Zanganeh has since asked foreign investors to do just that and avoid the “corrupt parasites” like Zanjani.
As the BBC points out, Zanjani’s punishment “could have wider implications for Iran’s economy, where many were involved in finding ways to avoid the sanctions.” To this point, the government’s motivations seem somewhat unclear. It could be that the trials are intended to truly punish those who acted wrongly, even if they often did so with the implicit blessing of the previous regime. However, Iran could also desire Zanjani and the others that have been similarly charged to function as a warning to those intending to continue his previous line of work. Perhaps those two outcomes are not mutually exclusive.
While Zanjani may have been targeted by Rouhani, few would argue that he is innocent. If his death can serve the dual purpose of meting out punishment for his crimes and dissuading others from following in his footsteps, then the government’s actions are understandable even if they do not necessarily seem just. For many people, the argument that an action is immoral carries little weight unless they also understand that such immorality comes with tangible consequences. Most of us know people like that. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve seen that person in the mirror as well.
Despite the Bible’s clear teaching that all sin comes with consequences (Galatians 6:7–9) and leads to death (James 1:5), all of us face moments of temptation where one of the primary considerations in how we act is the likelihood that we will be caught. That foolish notion is confirmed in our Scriptures, which are filled with stories of fallen people. God knows that we are often motivated more by the fear of consequences than we are by the promise of reward, so he inspired the biblical authors to include testimonies of just how much sin truly costs the sinner.
Fortunately, Scripture doesn’t stop there. The Bible does not record a single instance where someone genuinely sought God’s forgiveness and didn’t receive it. More often than not, there was still a price to pay as that pardon absolves us of our eternal guilt but not of the present consequences. However, our Lord promises mercy and grace for all who are willing to humble themselves and seek his forgiveness (2 Chronicles 7:14).
When was the last time you asked God’s forgiveness for the sin in your life? While I doubt any of us have embezzled billions of dollars from a corrupt government, we have all fallen short of the perfection Christ instructed us to pursue (Matthew 5:48) and continue to do so even after receiving salvation. Sin will always come with a price, but we serve a God who longs to help us learn from those consequences and move beyond them to a stronger walk with him. Have you taken that step today?