Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, July 10, 2006

Thoughts on Justice, Forgiveness and Ken Lay

While my family and I were away on holiday, Ken Lay died. He was the founder of Enron who was tried and found guilty of basically swindling thousands of Enron employees out of their jobs, savings, and retirements.

The collapse of Enron even had reaching impact beyond just the immediate employees. My wife and I were indirectly effected by the Enron scandal when a subsidiary cell phone company, the name of which escapes me at the moment, was sold to AT&T. For some reason, AT&T refused to match our awesome cell phone plan we had with the previous Enron related company. In fact, they were quite uncaring and totally unsympathetic to our predicament.

But I digress.

What I find note worthy about Ken Lay's death is the public response. I have in mind the commentary I have heard from local talk radio personalities and the interviews with former Enron employees who lost millions of dollars in retirement funds and their lives are essentially ruined. The comments I have heard are downright vicious and cruel. Ken Lay is painted as one of the greatest scoundrels the world has ever known.

Vladimir the Impaler, Jack the Ripper, Pol Pot, Ken Lay.

I can recall one person flippantly remarking that though Mr. Lay is now burning in a devil's hell after his death, he wished he could have spent some time in jail so he would be brutally savaged by other criminal prisoners. Wow. You want to wish such cruelty upon a guy because he financially ruined the lives of thousands of people? Believe me, I can resignate with the raw anger these former employees feel by having their financial security stolen away by a greedy, arrogant man. I am still a little bitter about loosing our cell phone. I certainly want him to go to jail, but I would never want to wish upon him some Escape From New York like punishment. Were talking about a guy who was convicted of financial fraud, not flaying infants alive.

Added to this mix is Ken Lay's alleged Christian faith. He was often heard invoking the name of Jesus, God's sovereignty, and divine providence when he was interviewed by the media horde outside of the court. Romans 8:28 was a popular verse he regularly quoted. His reference to religious themes annoyed his haters even the more, because how can a man so filled with wickedness dare to assume some spiritual connection with Jesus or God. They would accuse him of hiding behind the religious conversion shield.

I don't know what Mr. Lay's spiritual condition truly was. I understand he was raised in a Christian home and his dad was a preacher. So, on one hand, perhaps he was a genuine believer who became rich and powerful, lost all sight of humility before the Lord, and fell into sin. Then again, perhaps he was a big phony hypocrite, the by-product of traditional Bible-belt easy believism who thought he was saved but in reality was not. When the heat was ratcheted up, he was hiding behind a big Jesus shield and cited religious language to garner some sympathy from those he wronged. Who knows.

Here are a handful of thoughts I have in light of the responses to Ken Lay's death:

1) Unbelievers are legalists at heart. By that I mean they believe life is lived to please God by working hard so as to earn points for a ticket to be punched at the "pearly gates."

2) Unbelievers are conditional securists. Pretty much anyone who lives a good and decent life here on earth can get a "pearly gates fast pass," but if you financially ruin the lives of thousands of people like Ken Lay, you automatically forfeit all your fast pass rights for a seat next to Hitler on the speed tram ride to the caverns of hell.

3) It reveals the hypocrisy of easy believism, Bible-belt Christians. The walk the aisle, sign a card, pray a simple prayer of the middle America religious Christian does not set well with people when push comes to shove. I would venture a guess and say all those people in Houston who lost their jobs after Enron shut down are a product of, and weekly supports of, Bible-belt, easy believism. A good portion of them attend the kind of church where Ken Lay was raised as a boy and probably attended himself now and then when he was still a big shot. If these swindled people can be saved by easy believism methods, have their spot reserved for heaven with their signatures on a prayer card, and live life as they please minus the financial fraud, why then can't Ken Lay have the same certainty with the financial fraud? He is named a religious hypocrite because he swindled a bunch of people out of their money and then names Jesus as his savior? Yet Bubba who works way down on the food chain at Enron is not a religious hypocrite when he imbibs Internet pornography and names Jesus as his savior when he is found out?

4) Unbelievers hate any idea of Grace. Again, I don't know the reality of Ken Lay's spiritual condition. A few Bible verses thrown out on TV while standing outside a court house does not qualify a person as being a Christian. However, let us suppose Ken Lay was a Christian - a genuine, regenerated, born again Christian whose life changed during this crisis moment. That means his sin against all those people has been covered over by Christ's merits and he will stand justified before God. Now, that does not excuse him from having to pay the human, legal consequences of breaking the law and wronging all those people, but as far as God is concerned he will be seated at the supper table of the lamb, while all his harshest critics who never defrauded a person in their lives are cast into outer darkness. That is grace. Ken Lay never deserved such forgiveness, but neither do all those critics.


Blogger ThirstyDavid said...

But Ken Lay must be in Hell. He was so much more wicked than I.

Very good points.

6:34 PM, July 10, 2006  
Blogger Hiraeth said...

The problem is, when people discard God, they become the measure of their own morality. We, being moral pigmies, adopt a pigmy morality (no offence meant to pigmies), where only great and notorious sinners are seen as deserving of justice.

Us? Well, we're all right. even if we bend the rules a little.

But what about the white-collar fraudster? How does he measure his morality? Well, if he also measures it by himself, we've got nothing going for us.

2:57 AM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger John Rush said...

Like President Bush said the other night to Larry King (about Ken Lay)...

"I hope his heart was right with the Lord." --I assume he meant "finally"--at end.

I understand what you mean about folks having a shell about them of an "encultuerated"--is that a word?--Christianity.

I am against easy-believism.
I am against hard-believism.
I am for true believism.

Good post.

6:53 AM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger Joanna Martens said...

This was a favorite post of mine so far. Very sobering...
The points on unbelievers are so true- and what is interesting to note is that certain "christians" believe the same thing (arminians).
The one red flag that I have seen when it comes to true believers, is what do they believe about doctrine, not the "fruit" they produce.

5:43 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger Pastor Greg said...

I read your blog everyday and this was a great post! I'm thankful and blessed by the truth that you proclaim on the web.

Your former college roomate,


7:11 AM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Well Greg, it is a thrill to hear from you. You need to email me privately or give me a call so we can catch up.


7:52 AM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger Cecil said...

I work in as an accountant in a theological college in England. I still remember as if it was yesterday how our college got stung for approx. £3,500 by the fraudulent Enron organisation.

A group of men called the "NatWest 3" has also just been extradited to the U.S. on Enron fraud.

Whether K Lay ever was a Christian or whether he died a Christian, I don't know, but the sheer depth, scale, scope and global reach of his swindle is simply breathtaking. He was a pebble that generated a lot of very bad waves for a lot of people all over the world.

Whether he is now in Hell or not is not for us to judge but some might not find it too out of place to say it would have been better had he never been born.

3:37 PM, July 17, 2006  

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