Beckett: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Gospel

Netflix recently launched the true crime drama series titled DAHMER – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story with a superb performance by Evan Peters. It is difficult to argue that the show gives a sympathetic view toward the serial killer, much as Netflix did with Pablo Escobar in Narcos (portraying the sick murderer as a misunderstood businessman and family man). Unlike most true crime series, the show gives the audience the disturbing viewpoint of Dahmer’s victims—not only those whom he murdered and sickeningly dismembered and experimented on, but also those who were left to grieve.

Many viewers have been unable to finish the series because of how disturbingly accurate Peters’ portrayal of Dahmer is, and for good reason. Somehow, I had the stomach to watch the whole thing, and one can be left with two impressions: (1) Dahmer was an evil, despicable murderer; and (2) there was ample opportunity for all this to be avoided if his parents paid any actual attention to him and if the police did their jobs right.

At the end of the show, however, one might be able to infer that the producers end up giving a sympathetic view toward Dahmer. He’s cooperative with the police, he apologises to the bereaving victims for what he did at his sentencing, he’s rather docile in prison, and he gets baptised, the latter of which is true to reality. Shortly after he’s baptised, Dahmer is murdered by a fellow inmate named Christopher Scarver.

Although this is more than likely not the intention of the producers, the end of the show brings us to ponder the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially as it is delivered to us through His means of grace in Word and Sacrament.

The question that is inevitably asked by all is, “Was Jeffrey Dahmer saved?” My opinion: I don’t know, but most likely. To be clear, Dahmer’s crimes are inexcusable. Yes, he was a monster. What he did is unforgivable, at least to us. But to God, even Dahmer—as horrific and disturbing as his crimes were—is not beyond redemption. The reason why I say “I don’t know” is because I don’t know Dahmer’s heart; I cannot say whether his faith and therefore Baptism were genuine. Neither can you. However, I am more willing to lean on the side of grace, which is why I say “most likely.” It’s not impossible that Dahmer not only heard the Gospel in its purity and truth while he was in prison but also believed it; in fact, it is very likely.

Remember that the Apostle Paul, whom we highly esteem and who wrote over half of the New Testament, was a murderer. He stood by and approved the stoning of Stephen, and he was a ravaging murderer of the Church (Acts 7:54-8:3). Yet, years after his conversion, note these words from Paul, “although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:13-15). Paul, an insolent opponent against the Church, a murderer of God’s own people, the chief of sinners, was baptised and forgiven in Christ (see Acts 9:1-19).

Jeffrey Dahmer, certainly a vile murderer, and whom we consider the chief of sinners, likely came to faith in Christ, and he was baptised. Note Paul’s words on Baptism:

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin… For the death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:3-6, 10-11

Being baptised, does this erase what Dahmer did in the eyes of the law of man? Absolutely not; he would still have to pay for his crimes by living in prison for the rest of his life. Does this erase what Dahmer did in the eyes of God? Yes, for having trusted in Christ his Saviour, and being baptised into the death and resurrection of his Saviour, he came out of those waters cleansed, justified, and sanctified just as you, when you were baptised, came out of the waters cleansed of all your sins.

I do not pretend that this is difficult to accept. What Dahmer did was indubitably evil. He deserved his life sentence. But as Christians, we should acknowledge the efficacious power of God’s work in Baptism that redeems us from all our sins, recognising also that we all were murderers. According to the Apostle John, hating someone is akin to murder, and anyone who hates does not have eternal life residing within him (1 John 3:15). Which one of us has never hated? Therefore, lest we leave the plank in our own eye, let us consider first our own unworthiness and the surpassing mercy of Christ who has forgiven us our own murder before we judge Dahmer without knowing his heart when he was baptised. Besides, this should bring us tremendous comfort—that if Christ can forgive someone as evil as Dahmer, how much more will He forgive us our sins. I can’t imagine any person alive today has the ability within them to forgive Dahmer for what he did, but God does, because He’s God. It’s what He does.

Again, I do not know whether Dahmer’s faith was genuine or not. No one does. But I prefer to lean on the side of grace of God, whose peace in Christ Jesus surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6). And once again, I do not pretend that accepting the possibility that Dahmer is forgiven in Christ, and therefore seeing him and praising God with him in the resurrection, is near impossible to accept and fathom. But at least think on it for five minutes before sending me hateful emails.

To Christ be all the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

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