What Does Evil Look Like?

Is capital punishment justice or is it vengeance?

  • Justice
  • Vengeance
  • Undecided
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Capital Punishment

John Allen Muhammad has met his Maker. In the autumn of 2002, Muhammad along with Lee Boyd Malvo as an accomplice, shot and killed ten people in the Washington DC area.

Convicted as the Beltway sniper mastermind, he was executed by lethal injection on November 10, 2009 at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia. He was pronounced dead at 9:11 PM EST.

The question of capital punishment now gets some time in the limelight. Debates about its morality are being waged in boardrooms, backrooms and electronic chatrooms. Is it justice? Or is it vengeance? Is it the ultimate penalty for the ultimate crime? Or is it surrender to barbaric instincts? Emotion-soaked opinions are being tossed around without concern for statistics or principle.

In the Oprahized culture of the day, the loudest expression of feelings carries the most weight. Bumper-sticker cliches and sound-bite arguments can’t be avoided. It would be easy to stir the pot here, but to what purpose?

John Allen Muhammad's mugshot.
John Allen Muhammad's mugshot.

No Horns Or Pitchforks

The nondescript appearance of John Allen Muhammad captured my attention. It began to fascinate me or perhaps it is far more accurate to say that it disturbed me.

One would expect that the person who orchestrated the cold-blooded shooting spree that terrorized Washington DC and kept the commentators hopping for weeks would look like a monster or at least a wild-eyed bogeyman. But he didn’t. He looked normal. He had all the coiled fury of Barney Fife. His eyes gave no particular indication about the turmoil in his soul. He could have been the guy next door.

There was nothing extraordinary or striking about him. No horns were straining to peek out of his hair. A pitchfork wasn’t a part of his arsenal or accessories. He was not the devil incarnate. He was an ordinary flesh and blood human being. That’s the point, isn’t it?

A Darkness Within

It would be so much more palatable if the face of evil was obvious.  We might be able to make sense of cruelty and violence if the wickedness roaming the quiet countryside had the countenance of Frankenstein.  When innocent people are shot down going about their daily routines, we think it’d be easier to understand if a grotesque hobgoblin was responsible.  

A nefarious act requires a terrifying specter to be held accountable.  We do not want to see villainy in the guy next door because in all honesty we do not want to see a reflection of ourselves.  We do not want to consider or confront the darkness that lies within us.

Elvis Costello penned some words that strike close to home: “One day you're going to have to face…a deep dark truthful mirror…”

It is a deep dark truthful mirror that we ought to regard with humility. Our pride demands rational answers to the horrors of mankind’s ceaseless inhumanity, but the truth is rather simple: Evil is real and tangible.

We want to reject that idea with quick, knee-jerk fierceness. After all, we aren’t some band of stone-age hunters and gatherers in awe of strange superstitions. We are scientific and modern, so we scan the horizon searching for alternative explanations.

The reality of evil is far too complex for our politically correct sensibilities. Its evidence is everywhere, but we recoil because the concept seems so antiquated.

Not to worry; we’ve scaled the heights of the most challenging intellectual dilemmas, so it is only a matter of time before we will eradicate what the primitives once referred to as evil.

The enemy of our soul prowls around like a hungry lion seeking someone to devour.
The enemy of our soul prowls around like a hungry lion seeking someone to devour.

Sinister Influence

The mystery of evil has plagued us since we first succumbed to its temptation. And despite humanity’s illusions about our capacity to eliminate evil, it will remain in tact because Satan is a living being at war with God. His sole objective is to wreak havoc and destroy all that God loves.

A fisherman turned apostle named Peter warned: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

No one is exempt from evil’s sinister influence. John Allen Muhammad was not some isolated aberration. Given the right set of circumstances, we are all capable of anything. Left to our own devices there is no boundary line we will not cross.

It is a timeless certainty that God spoke through an ancient Hebrew prophet named Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” The face of evil is our faces; each one of us must deal with our own deep dark truthful mirror.

Our only peace is found in humble acknowledgement that God exists, God is good, and his eternal plan is unfolding according to his design.

Let the pundits investigate those facts for a news cycle or two. It might be a ratings vein of gold that’d result in miles of videotape to keep us informed.

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Comments 28 comments

Judah's Daughter profile image

Judah's Daughter 6 years ago from Roseville, CA

Very good hub. It's unfortunate to see such evil overtake an otherwise "normal" human being. Did evil possess the vessel and does destroying the vessel destroy the evil or set it free to roam to the next open vessel? May God have mercy upon each of us as He is the only One who can deliver our souls from the snares of the Evil One. Very sad indeed. I pray this man repented before he met his Lord.


lyricsingray 6 years ago

Great Write! Every time I hear of catastrophe's like this I find myself still shocked like it' never happened before. Maybe that's the problem, I don't want to look at it, so I don't. It's that mentality that keeps us stuck in the vicious cycle, and I know I am not alone on this. I just wish it didn't exist, as we all do. Thanks Kimberly


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Judah's Daughter - Thanks for your good comments. You raise a troubling question & I do not know the answer.

lyricsingray - Thanks for sharing your thoughts. And no, you are not alone on this.


IslandVoice profile image

IslandVoice 6 years ago from Hawaii

Looks are deceitful. This is why we must take heed when the bible tells us "we shall know them by their fruit. John Allen Muhammad was a cold blooded murderer, as evidenced by 10 dead people he shot. The scary part is, evil is so cunning, he finds no need to wear a mask.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

IslandVoice - Thank you for your wise words. Blessings to you.


Judah's Daughter profile image

Judah's Daughter 6 years ago from Roseville, CA

You know, based on his last name "Muhammad", I wonder if this killing spree isn't rooted in radical Islam ~ kind of like this Major that just killed 13 people at Fort Hood, TX!


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

I always enjoy reading your hubs, Ken. I'm one of those rare conservatives who doesn't support the death penalty. I believe granting life or death is "above our pay grade," as the POTUS would say.

Excellent hub!


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Judah's Daughter - I believe there was an element of that involved, yes.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

habee - Thanks for your words. The death penalty is a tough one for me too - it is one of the rare places where I manage to straddle the fence.


JimLow 6 years ago

So true Ken! Evil comes wrapped in many different packages -“Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” (II Cor. 11:14)

He actually tried to appear as something good to me as a youth but since being in Christ, he instead gives me the occassional lion-roar but "...greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." I-John 4:4

Loved the Hub!


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Jim - Thanks for sharing words of encouragement. Much appreciated.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

I don't really understand why conservatives are for the death penalty. I don't really get how you can be pro-life and pro-death penalty at the same time.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Cari Jean - I fully understand your point. I have some of the same misgivings. There is definitely a tension in it that seldom gets resolved for me.


PinanShodan profile image

PinanShodan 6 years ago

Hi Ken,

Thanks for another great writing, have been thinking about this hub for a couple of days and just need to let you know that I wouldn't want to be the judge that is involved in his case. But I believe God works through Judges to if they have the correct motive when they are doing there job. I love the lion's pic in your article.:-)


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

PinanShodan - Thanks for sharing. And I agree, I would not want to be a judge for any of the stuff that comes before them. Blessings to you.


Kathy Brown 6 years ago

My mind is pondering. That is not an easy feat at 8 PM.


Vladimir Uhri profile image

Vladimir Uhri 6 years ago from HubPages, FB

To Cari Jean: It is what Bible is saying guilty dies. We did already set the death, violating God's Word. Death penalty is inevitable for our protection. But abortion do not protect innocent babies or anyone.

Good hub Ken


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Thank you, Vladimir Uhri.


"Quill" 6 years ago

Morning Ken, a question was raised in my mind as I read of this crime of taking life and the additional crimes that seem to grow with each happening.

Each evil act seems to need to outdo the next and yet as I read of this person I can not help but wonder of the cause of such unrest. What was the background of his childhood, of his family. Is capital punishment right or wrong opens much debate. Does the soldier in battle have the right to kill another human being. Can we become judge and jury, like this man did when he commited the crime.

Hard questions to ask but at the end of the day it will be God that will judge.

Your hub has certainly stirred my spirit as I think of what my response would be if it were someone I loved that was taken by a seemingly normal looking person. Evil comes in many forms, I pray that God gives us discernment to see it before it manifest itself, giving us courage to minister to the needed before its to late.

Blessings


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Quill - Thanks for sharing your stirred up thoughts. All hard questions; all good questions. Many of the same ones that roil around inside my head.

Peace & blessings to you.


allpurposeguru profile image

allpurposeguru 6 years ago from North Carolina

It would be nice if evil looked frightfully ugly. Of course, then everyone would know to steer clear. So evil looks ordinary. That makes it harder to recognize it for what it is--either in terms of recognizing in others or ourselves. Most frightening, though, is when evil looks beautiful, like Satan himself appearing as an angel of light.

Great hub.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

allpurposeguru - Thank you for your comments. Like Aesop said, appearances are quite often deceiving. Blessings to you.


TLMinut profile image

TLMinut 6 years ago

You wrote: We do not want to see villainy in the guy next door because in all honesty we do not want to see a reflection of ourselves.

But it's really that I don't want to be around evil people or what they'll do. They hurt, damage, and destroy. I totally agree with the death penalty...but I don't know anyone with the right to carry it out. I don't consider the elected executioner as the one with the 'blame' for doing it when the people have decided it.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

TLMinut - Thanks for stopping in & sharing. I appreciate your comments.


momster profile image

momster 4 years ago

This is a very good hub. Everyone needs to have self control. The hard part is knowing where the limit is. Each individual has different limits and some just do not stop at it. Very sad deal when people let go of their limits of their capabilities and let the evil out. It also portrays what has happened recently in CO. James Holmes made himself to look like a monster in this situation. It is very sad.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 4 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

momster - Thank you. Your observations are exactly right. Blessings.


CyberShelley profile image

CyberShelley 4 years ago

I have always been against the death penalty, not our right to take another's life, and wondered how the executioner lives with himself. However, I am now thinking that people take others' lives with impunity, knowing they will be imprisoned for life which is around 25 years, and will be out in half of that time, for good behaviour. Maybe knowing that they could lose their own life, should they take a life of another will make a few stop and think, and hopefully not murder someone. Or is that too simplistic?


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 4 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

CyberShelley - Thanks for your words. Too simplistic? I don't know the answer to that---I do know that it's an honest, gut-level assessment.

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