“Why have you forsaken me?” is a proper description of what many of us might feel if someone was standing over us about to intentionally inject deadly chemicals into our body. Joseph Wood spent time talking about his love for Jesus. How are we to respond when a man who has been convicted of heinous murders speaks of Jesus as his dearest friend? There is a temptation to dismiss such spiritual proclamations as jailhouse religion meant to assuage the guilt that Joseph Wood must have felt. To provide such an easy answer is to deny the faith that has sustained so many of us through even the most horrible of circumstances.
There is a murderer in scripture. The writings and testimony of the Apostle Paul make up most of the New Testament. If we had executed him then we wouldn’t have them. We value the testaments of the Apostle Paul. What is the last testament of Joseph Wood?
“Love your neighbor as your self.” Love seems simple to most…I think this is because most don’t know what it means to practice it. Joseph Wood proclaimed a love for Jesus. This prophetic statement uttered by a convicted killer strapped to a gurney in Arizona asks a profound question of us…Joseph Wood’s neighbors, “Will you love me as your self?” The answer we gave Joseph Wood last night is “no.”
Throughout my upbringing as a Southern Baptist and evangelical Christian, I heard a question over and over again, “Are you saved?” In the light of Joseph Wood’s final statement and the travesty of a two-hour delay that happened next, the question “Are you saved?” repeats over and over again in my mind. If being saved has anything to do with learning how to “love our neighbor as our self,” then I can tell you that the answer to the question of “Are you saved?” is a resounding and unequivocal “no.” We are all damned for the torturous evil that we participated in last night.
Imagine. Your anxiety is skyrocketing. You decline a final meal. You say goodbye to your family and friends. You pray that somehow peace and love will be with you throughout the process of your death. The guards open the door. You walk to the chamber. The door opens and there is the gurney of your death. You are strapped in. You speak your final words into the microphone. The chemicals start to pump through your veins. You think something is wrong. You panic and painfully struggle to breath for almost two hours. Just before you die…you hear the doctor assure others, “they are completely sedated and not feeling a thing.” The evil you do unto others you do unto your self.
With each execution we are executing our own consciences. We are growing accustomed to doing evil against others and inflicting evil on our self. We need a revival of love and moral imagination. We must realize that when we kill we are perpetuating a cycle of violence that will eventually come to all of our doorsteps. The last testament of Joseph Wood is for us to love each other and stop the heinous practice of executing people. Wood’s love for Jesus reminds of that most basic human calling to “love our neighbor as our self.” One cannot love their neighbor while filling their body with deadly chemicals and watching them suffocate to death for two hours. In light of Arizona’s botched execution last night…I think it is time that we all got saved from this moral cancer of execution that is eating at all of our souls. Love is the antidote.