Does God Forgive Evil?

by: Mormon Heretic

February 17, 2014

National Geographic has a very interesting documentary, The Science of Evil where they look at evil from many points of view.  It was a very thought-provoking documentary, and I think I will put together a series of posts on the documentary.  My first post will deal with Jeffrey Dahmer, the notorious serial killer.  From Wikipedia, Dahmer

was an American serial killer and sex offender, who committed the rapemurder and dismemberment of 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991, with many of his later murders also involving necrophiliacannibalism and the permanent preservation of body parts—typically all or part of the skeletal structure.[1]

To call him evil is an understatement.  From the movie,

In 1994, Reverend Roy Ratcliff paid a visit to a maximum security prison in Portage, Wisconsin to discuss the Bible with a man serving 16 consecutive life terms, a man many considered to be evil incarnate. 

Ratcliff, “I first met Jeffrey Dahmer on April 20, 1994.  That day stands out vividly in my mind.”

Ratcliff’s mission that day was to determine if he’d help Dahmer, the killer and mutilator of at least 17 innocent victims, find forgiveness in the eyes of God.

Ratcliff, “As I drove to the prison my hands shook.  Several questions rose in my head.  What kind of man is this?”

It was about 11:30 pm on July 22, 1991 when two officers were lead to Dahmer’s apartment by a man who had fled in terror.

Ratcliff, “A total of what they found was beyond their worst imaginings.  A human head in the refrigerator, three more heads and a decapitated body in a small freezer.  A closet with two human skulls, a large pot containing hands and male genitals.  A 57-gallon industrial drum held three human bodies decomposing in acid.  Overall, 11 victims:  skulls, skeletons, and body parts were found in the apartment.”

As a minister in the Church of Christ, it is Ratcliff’s belief that through baptism by full-body immersion:  one’s sins can be washed clean and eternal life in heaven granted.  In essence, he believes that if a person accepts Jesus and repents, evil acts can be forgiven.

Ratcliff, “There’s a part of me that wanted to cry out, “No!”  And yet at the same time there’s a part of me that says, ‘But I serve God and God can reach this person too.’  There’s a part of me I suppose that wondered whether he deserved it?  Or is this just something to make him feel better?  To ease the suffering he feels for the crimes he’s committed.  “

Could Ratcliff do it?  Could he baptize a man many considered to be a monster?

Ratcliff, “I parked my car and headed for the door.”

Are Dahmer’s sins too great for redemption?  Can Ratcliff’s god ever forgive Dahmer’s litany of sins?

Ratcliff, “The guard told me to wait.  After about seven or eight minutes, there he was.  Jeffrey Dahmer.  Evil does not come with horns attached.  Although he had done terrible things, he was just a normal looking person.  Finally he said, ‘I really want to be baptized.’  He was familiar with Bible passages about the subject.  He understood the purpose and the place of baptism.  He very much wanted to address the sin in his life, and he believed in Jesus Christ.  He said, ‘I was afraid you’d come and tell me that I couldn’t be baptized because my sins were too evil.’ “

As Ratcliff talked with Dahmer, he began to feel something that surprised him.

Ratcliff, “As we began to talk with each other, look into each other’s eyes and talk heart-to-heart, I began to find things in him that I could admire:  His love for the truth, his desire for trying to find out what God’s all about and desire to become more like God.

From his initial meeting with imprisoned serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Reverend Roy Ratcliff has concluded that Dahmer is a worthy candidate for baptism and God’s forgiveness.”

Ratcliff, “The whole point of baptism is dying to one’s old life of sin.  All sins are evil before God.  I don’t know of any sins too evil for Christ’s blood to wash away.”

The day of the baptism was May 10, 1994.  A solar eclipse shrouded the prison in an eerie pall.  For Ratcliff, it was as if God himself was watching.

Ratcliff, “I arrived there and was taken through the various procedures to meet Jeff.  And I met him in the chaplain’s office.  And I took his confession of faith.  We’re escorted down the hallway from the chaplain’s office to the medical wing where they have this little whirlpool that the prisoners use when they hurt their back, a little stainless steel tub.  And then the door opens up and Jeff’s already in the little tub.  And he’s in the fetal position and all that’s left of him that’s sticking out of the water is his head.  And he’s looking up at me and I step up to him and put my hand on his head and say, ‘I now baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of your sins.’  And I just pushed his head down.”

Ratcliff, “And when he came back up I said, ‘Welcome to the family of God.’  And he said, ‘Well thank you.’  It was a very quiet ceremony, very silent ceremony, very beautiful, though.  No angels singing, nothing like that going on, but it was just something that was just kind of holy in its silence, just a beautiful thing to remember.  I believe that the baptism of Jeffrey Dahmer is the triumph of good over evil, in his case especially.”

As Ratcliff left the prison, he had no idea how his lone act of faith, of forgiveness, would impact his life.

Ratcliff, “To some degree I still live under the shadow of Jeff’s evil journey.  It was very dark that day.  That darkness has sort of followed me in my experiences with Jeffrey Dahmer as well, too.”

By the time news of Dahmer’s controversial baptism had spread, Ratcliff realized that he had misread his own congregation.

Ratcliff, “Did I ever think, did I ever get a sense that people thought of me as a collaborator with evil?  No one ever said anything like that to me, to my face, in fact.  And this perhaps speaks to the hypocrisy of people.  “

Ratcliff claims half of his congregation left in objection to the Dahmer baptism.

Ratcliff, “One of my favorite passages from the Bible is about evil.  Rather than try to explain it, you rise up to bring aid and comfort to the person who’s hurting.”

Ratcliff, “The regrets I have is that people have not responded as I thought they would.  My regret is perhaps misreading people and not seeing what was going on in their hearts.  But no regrets in terms of what I did or what I was trying to do.

Six months after his baptism, Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered by a fellow inmate.

Ratcliff, “I believe that Jeff is in heaven.  If it takes faith in Jesus to go to heaven, Jeff had that.  “

My mind is blown.  What do you think of this?

Is it possible for God to forgive Jeffrey Dahmer?

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What do you think was Dahmer's motivation for baptism?

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What do you think of Reverend Ratcliff's congregation's reaction?

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What do you think of Reverend Ratcliff's actions?

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Do you think Dahmer is in Heaven?

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22 Responses to Does God Forgive Evil?

  1. egee on February 17, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    I could not possibly speculate on what God will do with someone like Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer was obviously in the grip of dark desires the nature of which few of us understand. God must have looked upon Dahmer’s heart at the time of his baptism and understood it. But what He will do with that understanding is quite beyond me.

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  2. fbisti on February 17, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    In my belief, resting primarily on logic, Agency is the determining element or principle of such issues (“you are agents unto yourselves”). To the extent (and I don’t profess to understand the degree to which mental illnesses can impact one’s exercise of) Agency operated is why Dahmer became what he was, he is responsible. Many would use the word “accountable” there. I disagree completely as I will make clear shortly.

    Given that Agency is completely within our own control, we become what we desire and want to become: kind, honest, selfless, humble…or, selfish, mean, venal, etc. Another term for Agency is will. We certainly can be affected by the conditions, culture, and other advantages or disadvantages to our learning and seeing good or bad behaviors. However, once we reach a level of sufficient knowledge (“of good and evil”) and maturity (“the age of accountability”) our inherent agency is active–we are the decider. We become (internal character attributes, and intent of our hearts–not simply our actions) more or less righteous (ultimately) solely through our will.

    I don’t think that God can actually choose not to forgive someone who has changed (repented), regardless of so-called scripture to the contrary. If that person has altered the nature of his character so as to be no longer unrighteous, God will (naturally, logically) be forgiving. After all, forgiveness is a trait of righteousness. To the extent God’s forgiveness is automatic and cannot be given undeservedly, it is, therefore, irrelevant

    So, we are not accountable to God, or anyone, in the sense that concept is meant to convey. God cannot fail to forgive even Dahmer (to the extent Dahmer’s agency and not his mental illness is the responsible force).

    Given that we are not perfect, forgiveness is a choice we can make. Though we are not able to discern whether or not a person has repented (changed). For us forgiveness is an attribute of righteousness we must choose.

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  3. Mormon Heretic on February 17, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    I also posted this post on my blog, and one commenter said that Jeffrey needed baptism by the proper authority. I just did a search on familysearch.org. There are 2 entries for Jeffrey Dahmer, and the ordinances are listed “not available”. I wonder if this means he has been baptized for the dead, but the church knows what a public nightmare it would be to admit that. For sake of argument, let’s say Dahmer has been baptized by the proper authority. Did he have time in his life to repent of the murders? Will he have time to properly repent in the next life?

    If Jeffrey truly does have faith in Christ, is there anything anyone can do to remain in hell? Do Mormons believe in universal salvation?

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  4. Howard on February 17, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    Those who revere the letter of the law or demand eye for an eye justice or can only see the viewpoint of the victim will probably have a difficult time with this but I do believe God is willing to forgive Dahmer after all we acknowledge that at least some mentally ill and developmentally disabled are not under the law and Hitler’s name has been baptized for the dead.

    But I don’t think Dahmer can be forgiven or forgive himself before he comes to realize the gravity of what he did and repents of it and he cannot understand what he did until he comes to empathetic understanding of the position of his victims, his victim’s loved ones and that of impartial observers. How does one understand what it is like to be murdered without being murdered? This question gives rise to the concept of blood atonement which might explain Dahmer’s fate. What about the victims? Well, that is what the atonement is about.

    I’ll guess that fear was Dahmer’s main motivation for baptism and I suspect Mormon congregations would respond similarly. I think Ratcliff acted as an agent of God.

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  5. Jon on February 17, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Don’t the scriptures warn repeatedly that there is no forgiveness for some sins?

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  6. Howard on February 17, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    Unpardonable Sin

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  7. mh on February 17, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    Mormons teach that restitution is part of repentance. How does dahmer perform restitution?

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  8. Nate on February 17, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    It is LDS doctrine that ALL are saved in a kingdom of glory (except sons of perdition, which is “shedding innocent blood after recieving New and Everlasting Covenant” according to D&C 132:27) So Dahmer is good at least for the Telestial Kingdom, which glory is beyond comprehension, according to LDS doctrine.

    The issue I see with judging Dahmer, is that we are judging him according to our instinctual repulsions towards Necrophelia. It’s a natural gag mechanism in our biology which keeps us away from rotting flesh which can transmit disease.

    But our instinctual repulsion is so strong, that we are unable to judge Dahmer from his own perspective. Like many individuals to a greater or lesser, Dahmer was born with, and developed what we call “perversions.” When we see someone engaging in a “perversion,” we judge that person as if we ourselves were engaging in it, and thus we recoil in horror, because to us, it feels unnatural and wrong. This is not our “morality.” This is pure instinct, like our abhorence of cadavers and excrement.

    Actually, if you think about it, someone who acts out “perversions” is proving that for them, it is not a perversion. If they really loathed it, why would they do it? After all, it is a dirty, frightening, dangerous, complicated act, that no person in their right mind would ever do. Only someone whose instinctual urges were so strong, so real, so addictive, and so inescapable is capable of such things. The dramatic extent of the perversion is proof of just how innescapable his compulsive desires must have been. And if those desires were so strong as to be innescapabe, then how culpable should we hold him to be?

    Should we judge based on our gag mechanisms, when God Himself created species which procreate through necrophelia, like the Praying Mantis? Or when there are entire cultures for which canibalism is normal behavior?

    We make the mistake of thinking “the more unnatural, the more evil.” But it’s the opposite! It’s the natural man which is an enemy to God. Dahmer was wrong because he was acting naturally (according to HIS nature), instead of trying to put off the natural man and become a Saint, (which was unnatural for both him, and all of us.) Likewise, when we judge Dahmer according to our natural man (our instinctive gag reflex) we are judging according to the natural man, which is an enemy to God. Instead, we should recognize that the problem with Dahmer is that he was TOO natural. He needed to try to transcend his nature, and he either wasn’t able to, or didn’t try.

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  9. Jared on February 17, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    This post ask a difficult question. Dahmer is the epitome of evil. Another like him is Hitler. As I read this post, I recalled George F Richards post WWII talk in conference. He had the following spiritual manifestation regarding Hitler.

    Imagine relating this dream in conference where many of the listeners had suffered greatly because of Hitler.

    “President George F. Richards,” in Conference Report, October 1946, 139-140.

    OBLIGATION TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES
    Then a few years ago, at the closing of a conference of the St. Johns Stake, we had had a wonderful conference I thought, and I was very happy on retiring. I was sleeping in the home of the president of the stake, Brother Levi Udall, and that night I had a remarkable dream. I have seldom mentioned this to other people, but I do not know why I should not. It seems to me appropriate in talking along this line. I dreamed that I and a group of my own associates found ourselves in a courtyard where, around the outer edge of it, were German soldiersand Fuhrer Adolph Hitler was there with his group, and they seemed to be sharpening their swords and cleaning their guns, and making preparations for a slaughter of some kind, or an execution. We knew not what, but, evidently we were the objects. But presently a circle was formed and this Fuhrer and his men were all within the circle, and my group and I were circled on the outside, and he was sitting on the inside of the circle with his back to the outside, and when wewalked around and I got directly opposite to him, I stepped inside the circle and walked across to where he was sitting, and spoke to him in a manner something like this:

    “I am your brother. You are my brother. In our heavenly home we lived together in love and peace. Why can we not so live here on the earth?”
    And it seemed to me that I felt in myself, welling up in my soul, a love for that man, and I could feel that he was having the same experience, and presently he arose, and we embraced each other and kissed each other, a kiss of affection.
    Then the scene changed so that our group was within the circle, and he and his group were on the outside, and when he came around to where I was standing, he stepped inside the circle and embraced me again, with a kiss of affection.

    I think the Lord gave me that dream. Why should I dream of this man, one of the greatest enemies of mankind, and one of the wickedest, but that the Lord should teach me that I must love my enemies, and I must love the wicked as well as the good?
    Now, who is there in this wide world that I could not love under those conditions, if I could only continue to feel as I felt then? I have tried to maintain this feeling and, thank the Lord, I have no enmity toward any person in this world; I can forgive all men, so far as I am concerned, and I am happy in doing so and in the love which I have for my fellow men.
    I love the Saints of God, as I love the Lord and his work. I love you faithful men and women who are laboring for the Lord, and for your fellow men.

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  10. Mormon Heretic on February 17, 2014 at 3:57 PM

    I was just looking at the poll results so far. There are 2 interesting things I noticed. The question “Is it possible for God to forgive Jeffrey Dahmer?” there are 0 “No” votes.

    The question “Do you think Dahmer is in Heaven?”, there are 0 “Yes” votes. (“I don’t know” leads the way with 81% of the votes.)

    So far, our readers believe it is possible for God to forgive Dahmer, but nobody wants to put him definitively in heaven.

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  11. hawkgrrrl on February 17, 2014 at 7:47 PM

    Well, heaven in Mormon terms – we don’t believe we go straight to “heaven” anyway, and with 3 kingdoms to choose from, which is the heaven for which he is eligible? When I think about his motivation to be baptized, I tend to think that he disassociates from his actions rather than feeling remorse for them. How else can one commit such acts without being nearly in another frame of mind during them? Some compartmentalization is necessary, or so I would think.

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  12. New Iconoclast on February 18, 2014 at 4:29 PM

    I’m with Hawk – I couldn’t say “no” to “heaven,” whatever that means, and due to my LDS views on the three kingdoms and that intermediate “paradise/prison” dichotomy pre-Judgment, I couldn’t say “yes” to a present tense “Is he?” rather than “Will he be?”

    I think when I’m asked a question like that, the only honest answer for me is, “‘Heaven’ as it’s commonly thought of is a meaningless concept.” If I had to guess, I’d say “spirit prison,” which seems to equate to hell depending on whose sermon you read. “Paradise” seems unlikely given the nature of his deeds. I can’t even begin to speculate on his eventual kingdom, and I suspect that story may not be complete yet. I’m not God.

    This dates me, but for those of you old enough to remember the “Son of Sam,” I think the story of his conversion to Christianity is fascinating. He’ll tell you he should not be let out of prison, and has actually refused to seek parole. David Berkowitz is a very sincere Christian.

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  13. Toni on February 18, 2014 at 5:02 PM

    I’m sure I do not have an actual knowledge of Dahmer’s repentance or being in heaven.

    I suspect he was manipulating the reverend – or had some other motive. It is my personal belief that he is in spirit prison, which is where he should be instead of mortal prison because he was so flippin’ dangerous to humanity. I also believe that he will, at some future time, go into the telestial kingdom because he did not have an absolute knowledge of God, thus did not “deny the sun’s light while the sun was shining.” (Yes, I know that quote is totally fractured.) I don’t think he will go into a higher kingdom. Unlike the Lamanites, he was living in a country that taught him killing was wrong.

    I would have left the congregation because I would not have felt secure, even though he was still in prison (yeah, that makes no sense on a logical level). It would have nothing to do with judging/condemning the man or refusing to forgive him (he did not hurt me, thus I am not the one to render forgiveness to him).

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  14. ji on February 18, 2014 at 5:24 PM

    The Lord taught us that He intends to forgive every sin, except that unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holt Ghost. So yes, in my mind, murderers and rapists and so forth will be forgiven in that day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is the Christ. If Mr. Dahmer bows and confesses, well, as I understand, he will be forgiven and find a place in the telestial kingdom, a kingdom of glory, and I don’t think anyone will begrudge him that salvation. If he was damaged in his earth life, he will be healed in the resurrection — who knows, he might qualify for a greater kingdom. I believe God can heal and forgive everyone. But assuming he knew what he was doing, and did it purposefully, he’ll have to endure in hell until the resurrection of the unjust.

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  15. Howard on February 18, 2014 at 7:33 PM

    Exploring the mind of a killer 6 1/2 min. TED talk

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  16. brjones on February 18, 2014 at 9:45 PM

    Great comment, Nate. I think it’s a mistake to assume that there is unanimity as to the meaning of the term “evil”.

    And I disagree that Dahmer is either the “epitome of evil” or “like Hitler”. That’s a lazy analogy.

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  17. Kullervo on February 19, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    So far, our readers believe it is possible for God to forgive Dahmer, but nobody wants to put him definitively in heaven.

    Only God knows who is definitively in heaven.

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  18. mormon heretic on February 19, 2014 at 8:01 AM

    Kullervo, you’re right, but that is a wimp out.

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  19. Kullervo on February 19, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    No way. It’s the only permissible answer and it’s the only possible answer.

    If Dahmer put his trust solely in Jesus’s completed work on the cross for his salvation, then he is redeemed by the blood of the lamb and is most definitely in heaven. But I can’t know what was in Jeffrey Dahmer’s heart, and you can’t know either. We can guess, and that sure seems like a fun game, but that puts us realy quick into the territory of judging things we’re not allowed to judge.

    There is no question that his particular sins were so heinous that I don’t even want to think about them. But our particular sins are really just icing on the damnation cake we’re eating. You and I and Jeffrey Dahmer each were born dead in sin, and nothing we have done in our lives, neither good deed nor sin–no matter how heinous–has changed that. On our own, you and I are every bit as justly condemned to an eternity in hell as Jeffrey Dahmer is, and we have absolutely no power to make ourselves worthy of forgiveness and salvation. Our only hope is to trust completely in Jesus Christ and his righteousness, because it is more than enough.

    That’s why they call it the good news.

    The magnitude of Jeffrey Dahmer’s sins is incalculable, but the magnitude of Jesus Christ’s completed work on the cross is infinitely greater, more than enough to justify Dahmer and reconcile him to God. That is how deep and powerful the atonement is: of all those that the Father has given Him, Jesus will not lose a single one.

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  20. Douglas on February 19, 2014 at 6:10 PM

    It’s difficult to speculate about Dahmer, Gacy, Hitler, Stalin, etc. etc. b/c we don’t know to what extent they were mentally ill. Insanity as an exculaptory factor in crime is a legal concept, not necessarily a psychological, medical, or moral one. We do know based on scriptures and mmodern revelation that no murderer has “eternal life” abiding within. It’s for this reason that ordinarily a murderer isn’t eligible to be baptized.

    Can we circumscribe what the Lord will forgive or won’t? I don’t think we have the right to presuppose what He’s going to ultimately do with the worst of the worst. I don’t necessarily buy that Dahmner was sincere. Since Wisconsin has no death penalty, even though he was sentenced to multiple life terms w/o possiblity of parole, as long as he was breathing he’d always have hope to either get his sentence(s) reduced to where someday he could be paroled; or at least gain more favorable incarceration cconditions. If the cretin was sincere, it’s fine, but too late for his victims. Based on what we know, I don’t see how Dahmer can end up in the CCelestial Kingdom, but certainly the Savior will look for every break that can be afforded him.

    A good question is, even if the prepetrator of heinous crimes seems sincere, what should WE do? If the sentence is LIFE, without parole, then let that be imposed and no further debate once adjudicated. As the fictional Col. Tavington, when he browbeat the villagers into divulging the whereabouts of the “Ghost”, Benjamin Martin, and his irregulars, told the incredulous man that protested that they’d be forgiven, said: “But that’s between you and God.” (Fire the Church).

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  21. Kullervo on February 20, 2014 at 8:00 AM

    Denying eternal life to murderers is denying the power of the atonement.

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