“How can you not know your own father was a serial killer?”
That question fueled the lunchtime discussion between my coworkers and me. A coworker’s friend met the daughter of a famous serial killer. The killer’s daughter confessed to having no idea that her father was regularly killing people during the time she was being raised by him.
“How could you not see it?!”
“How does this happen?”
This particular serial killer hid his dark secrets well–and he’s not the only one. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve flipped on the news to see an interview with a friend or neighbor of a terrible criminal. Time after time the interviewees say something like, “He seemed like a nice guy to me–I had no idea he could do something like this.”
Hiding Our Sins
The scary truth is that we all hide sin. We may not be hiding a murderous streak like these examples, but we have other things we work hard to keep a secret.
Some put on the mask of good works, success, religion, or irreligion to cover up their sin. Others mock the need for a mask; like ISIS flaunting their depravity and hatred toward God in front of the watching world. Some claim that the need for a mask to hide our sin is artificial, or psychologize everything by saying that if people only had a better upbringing or economic status, everything would be fine. Others just label the sin something not so harsh, like a “mistake.”
Even though sin should be evident to people, many people don’t believe in the sinfulness of humanity precisely because humans are good at covering up their tracks. It’s not natural in our culture to walk into the grocery store and point at the guy stocking shelves and say, “He’s a sinner going to hell!” But if he doesn’t know Christ, that is true.
How can humanity deny the sinfulness of the Holocaust? Of ISIS? Of the mass shootings like Fort Hood or Sandy Hook? We can’t. We can try to explain it away, but no explanation satisfies. I agree with G. K. Chesterton, who wrote that original sin “is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”
Hiding our sin may work in the public sphere for a time, but there will be a day when all will be laid bare before Almighty God. All of our sins–whether a white lie or a double homicide–will be laid before God and we will be held accountable. The masks will be ripped off and the filthy hearts of humanity will be shown for what they are–no matter how good they look dressed up here on earth.
What could be more terrifying than standing before a holy God on judgment day?
Our Glorious Hope
The good news for Christians is that Christ has freed us from fearing that Day through his death on the cross. We have had masks and sins to pay for, but they have been paid and we can live in freedom and honesty–not having to cover our tracks. Colossians 2:13-15 says,
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
The good news of the gospel is that this offer is available to all who would believe–whether you’re a sinful youth group kid (like I was), a guy stocking shelves at the grocery store, an ISIS member, or serial killer like David Berkowitz.
Glorious Hope for a Serial Killer
David Berkowitz is the famed “Son of Sam” serial killer that plagued New York City in the 1970s, murdering six women. Berkowitz had a hard life growing up: he was plagued with seizures, contemplated suicide while young, and lost his mother at the age of fourteen.
His already dark and lonely life grew darker when he began experimenting with the occult after meeting a couple of cult members at a party. This soon took him into deep darkness where he followed the instructions of demons to viciously kill six people over the span of one year from the summer of 1976 to the summer of 1977.
Berkowitz was able to cover his tracks and escape the law for a while, but his sin eventually caught up with him. He was sentenced to 365 consecutive years in prison (one life sentence for each of the women he killed). He describes this prison sentence as being “virtually buried alive behind prison walls.”
While Berkowitz’s situation seemed hopeless, hope was not out of reach.
Ten years into his prison term, a fellow prisoner reached out to him and shared the gospel. Although Berkowitz tried to avoid him at first, his hopeless situation led him to pursue a friendship, clinging onto any glimpse of hope offered. The new friend gave Berkowitz a Bible from the Gideon’s and told him to start reading the Psalms.
Here is what happened next in Berkowitz’s own words:
One night, I was reading Psalm 34. I came upon the 6th verse, which says, “this poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him from all his troubles.” It was at that moment, in 1987, that I began to pour out my heart to God. Everything seemed to hit me at once. The guilt from what I did…the disgust at what I had become…late that night in my cold cell, I got down on my knees and I began to cry out to Jesus Christ. I told Him that I was sick and tired of doing evil. I asked Jesus to forgive me for all my sins. I spent a good while on my knees praying to Him. When I got up it felt as if a very heavy but invisible chain that had been around me for so many years was broken. A peace flooded over me. I did not understand what was happening. But in my heart I just knew that my life, somehow, was going to be different.
And something was and is very different from that day in his lonely prison cell.
Today Berkowitz ministers to other prisoners; and although he is behind bars, he has a letter writing ministry sharing his story and warning people of the dangers of the occult. God has even opened the door for him to share his story on national television multiple times.
David Berkowitz’s story proves that Jesus gives us freedom. We can be honest with ourselves and God, and receive forgiveness.
Glorious Hope for You and Me
Your sin probably isn’t as bad as David Berkowitz’s. But if you’re a human being, you have enough sin to damn you for all of eternity.
If you are in Christ, you can be sure your sin is paid for. You won’t have to hide your sin in the same way because we are free to expose it as we trust in the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse us from all sin. And although you still battle sin daily, your new heart and new identity in Christ will help you say “no” to ungodliness and do what’s right (Titus 2:11-12). You won’t be so focused on covering your sin because you will be focused on doing good works for the Lord (Titus 2:14). Your eyes will be on Jesus, the One who heard your cry and saved you from all of your troubles.
While some may scoff that serial killers can be forgiven, we should rejoice. It could be us with a harsh prison sentence–not 365 years behind bars, but an eternity of torment and God’s judgment for having rejected the forgiveness that Christ offers. In Christ, we can be forgiven.
I don’t know of any better news than this for a serial killer, a serial killer’s daughter, or anyone else.