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Thought

God is merciful

The case of Omar Farouq, a 13-year-old boy, in northern Kano state in Nigeria has attracted international attention. In August Omar was convicted in a Sharia court of making uncomplimentary remarks about Allah during an argument with a friend and was sentenced to 10 years in prison with menial labour for blasphemy. Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s representative in Nigeria, said the sentence “negates all core underlying principles of child rights and child justice.”

In a remarkable intervention, Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum in Poland, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria to pardon the teenager. In an open letter Piotr wrote, “He should not be subjected to the loss of the entirety of his youth, be deprived of opportunities and stigmatised physically, emotionally and educationally for the rest of his life.” Omar’s case has struck a painful chord for Piotr because countless children were imprisoned and murdered in Auschwitz by the German Nazi regime.

In his letter Piotr also said that if Omar cannot be pardoned then he would be willing to serve part of his sentence along with other volunteers from around the world. He wrote, “However, if the words of this child absolutely require 120 months of imprisonment, and even you are not able to change that, I suggest that in place of the child, 120 adult volunteers from all over the world, gathered by us – myself personally among them – should serve a month in a Nigerian prison.” More than 120 people from around the world have already offered to serve part of Omar’s sentence. If Omar is pardoned, Piotr also offered to personally fund his education resulting in “an aware and educated young citizen” rather than a “destroyed young man.”

Piotr’s intervention reminds us of the words of the prophet Micah, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” In the Bible the principle of substitution was the foundation of the sacrificial system. When anyone sinned, they were commanded to offer an animal in their place and were told that because the animal died their sins would be forgiven. The supreme substitute is the Lord Jesus. Philip Bliss’ hymn says, “’Man of Sorrows’, what a name for the Son of God who came ruined sinners to reclaim! Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood; sealed my pardon with his blood; Guilty, vile, and helpless, we, spotless Lamb of God was he; full redemption—can it be? Hallelujah! what a Saviour!”

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Thought

The love that transforms

Last week a man suddenly threatened to blow up the Fishmongers’ Hall, near London Bridge, where a prisoner rehabilitation conference, organised by Cambridge University, was being held. He then began attacking people with two knives. The man, who had been convicted of a terror offence, was invited to attend the conference. He had served half his 16-year sentence and had been released on licence in 2018 with an electronic tag. The man moved on to London Bridge where he was restrained by members of the public and then shot by the police. Two people were killed and 3 were injured.

As one hate-filled man was trying to kill people, others showed great courage in seeking to save lives. Lukasz from Poland, who works as a chef at Fishmongers’ Hall, bought time for others to escape by fighting the terrorist with a narwhal tusk he pulled off the wall. Despite being stabbed 5 times, he continued to confront the man. His actions, and those of others who confronted the terrorist, undoubtedly saved lives.

Tragically two young people who were attending the conference died. Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt were involved with Cambridge University’s Learning Together programme for prisoner rehabilitation. Jack’s father said, “Jack: you were a beautiful spirit. You lived your principles; believing in redemption and rehabilitation, not revenge, and always took the side of the underdog. Cambridge lost a proud son and champion for underdogs everywhere, but especially those dealt a losing hand by life, who ended up in the prison system.” He went on to say that Jack “would not wish his death to be used as a pretext for more draconian sentences or to detain people unnecessarily.”

Jesus was a man who was committed to helping and changing people. He is still doing that today by the power of the Holy Spirit. During his ministry many people who had failed in life, and wanted to change, were drawn to him. He loved them and gave them new hope. Knowing him and experiencing his love changed them. Jesus died not for his own sins, but for ours. He laid down his life that we might know God and receive the gift of eternal life. He loves people who are his enemies and changes their hearts so that they truly love him. The apostle Paul was an enemy of Jesus, but he was changed. Seeing the transformation in him Christians were amazed and said, “The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!”

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Thought

The value of a soul

The recent decision of the Court of Protection in the case of David James is very significant. David James, who is 68 years old, walked into hospital seven months ago with a stomach complaint. While in hospital he contracted pneumonia which led to multiple organ failure. He has been kept alive despite suffering a stroke, a heart attack and kidney problems that have left him unable to speak or to breathe unaided. The hospital applied to the court to refuse “aggressive” treatment, including restarting his heart, if he deteriorated further. It said the potential suffering outweighed his tiny chances of recovery. David’s family opposed the hospital in court saying that David had been put on a controversial end-of-life pathway to free up his intensive care bed.

The judge found for the family saying that while David’s situation is “grim”, the proposed treatment was not “futile or overly burdensome”, as doctors claimed. The judge concluded that, “Although the burdens of treatment are very great indeed, they have to be weighed against the benefits of a continued existence.” He said the doctors had undervalued the limited quality of life David could still enjoy. He described David’s relationship with his family as “of the closest and most meaningful kind” and this carried great weight in his decision. The family said that David smiled when they visited and enjoyed reading the newspaper, listening to music and seeing his grandchildren.

The judge was right in placing a high value on David’s life, even when it is so limited. The sanctity of human life is a very important principle. The lives of babies, disabled people, the chronically ill and the elderly are precious. Some people feel vulnerable today because they fear their lives are not regarded as valuable. They feel they are “dispensable” if the cost of their care is high or they are seen as a burden on society.

We are all precious in God’s sight. He “knit us together in our mother’s womb.” All our days “were written in his book before one of them came to be.” Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, paid the price of our redemption with his own blood on the Cross. Lucy Ann Bennett wrote, “O teach me what it meaneth, that cross uplifted high, with One, the Man of Sorrows, condemned to bleed and die! O teach me what it cost Thee, to make a sinner whole; and teach me, Saviour, teach me the value of a soul!”