This week, my husband and I watched a one-hour special on serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. We were riveted to our chairs and have had several lengthy discussions since.
Dahmer was dubbed “The Milwaukee Cannibal” when he was apprehended in 1991. For 13 years he had lured men and boys to his home, raped them, murdered 17 of them and dismembered many of the bodies. At the time of his arrest, the police found freezers stuffed with body parts and a large vat of acid for dissolving flesh from bone. His crimes were shocking and undeniably evil.
But that’s not what my husband and I have been talking about.
While in prison, Jeffrey Dahmer repented. He turned his life and his will — as twisted and dark as they were — over to Jesus Christ and confessed him as savior. I listened to him talk and am convinced this wasn’t a “jail-house conversion” so people would like him better or to mitigate his sentence.
Boom! Real life and theology crash into one another. Is God’s saving grace big enough to cover a Jeffrey Dahmer? The reality is staggering.
The Dahmer interview compelled me to believe that he was indeed saved. First, he was articulate and transparent when he admitted the progression of his crimes and how they eventually dominated his every waking thought.
Like any addiction, he didn’t begin with an intention to become a prolific, violent serial killer. He wanted the comfort of human touch without anything being asked of him in return. He drugged his victims so he could deny their humanity. Dahmer gradually succumbed to a powerful and malignant form of lust.
His sins were rooted in absolute selfishness, yet Dahmer took full responsibility for yielding to the progressive evil that eventually defined his life.
Second, he displayed a contrite spirit. Sincerely repenting his crimes, Dahmer regretted not getting the death penalty. “I think it would have been a fair judgment for what I did and the families would have felt justice was better served.”
Third, he was sadly honest when the interviewer asked if his desires were gone since his conversion.
“No, sometimes I still want to sin, and if I was released I’m not sure I could control myself,” he said. “I believe it is the safest thing for me to be incarcerated the remainder of my life because I don’t want to hurt anyone else.”
Some theologians will tell you that once you give your life and will over to God, your desire to sin will be permanently erased. That’s not my personal experience. Conversion gives back our ability to choose. That moment shines a light that illuminates right and wrong in a new way. Suddenly we see more clearly what was painfully confused in our past.
Dahmer recognized that his addiction had become life-consuming and he would never be completely safe again.
Three years after his apprehension and while incarcerated in the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin, Jeffrey Dahmer was bludgeoned to death by a fellow inmate. The autopsy revealed the cause of death as “blunt force trauma to the head.” Of interest is the fact that he had no defensive wounds.
Did he believe this was finally what he deserved? We’ll never know … or will we?
Someday we will share an eternity with others who repulse us today. Either God’s grace is sufficient for Dahmer, or it isn’t sufficient for any of us. In the heart of the Father, one size really does fit all whether you are an extra-small sinner, or a jumbo size seven-plus.
“Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners ...” (1 Timothy 1:5)
Sylvia Peterson is a former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at email@example.com.