Rose West is guilty of appalling and disgusting crimes. She and her husband Fred sexually abused and murdered young women, including their own daughter, and then buried them under the patio of their home. She was convicted of ten murders in 1995 and is one of only three women in the UK to have received a whole-life tariff, which guarantees that she will die in prison.
According to The Sunday People, a fellow prisoner has reported that Rose West has found religion, attends chapel every Sunday, and is confident that she will be at peace in an afterlife. She's told fellow inmates: “I’ve found a new life in God”.
Needless to say, these claims have been greeted with outrage and scepticism.
The article described Rose West as a “deluded monster” and regards it as inconceivable that she could be forgiven by God after committing such appalling crimes.
Fellow inmate Catherine Jones told the paper: “She really believes she’ll be forgiven when she dies. Will she? She put her own daughter under the patio.”
A close family member told the paper: “We’re trying to move on and if Rose thinks that asking God to forgive her will in some way make up for what she’s done then that’s not a god that I would understand. There is nothing she can do that would put right what happened.”
I have no idea whether Rose West has come to genuine faith in Christ, accompanied by a real and sincere repentance for all that she has done. I fully understand the scepticism that has greeted her claims to have found religion. However, what I do know is that the Bible promises that if she has genuinely trusted in Christ as Lord and Saviour, and repented of her sin, then God will forgive her.
More than that, he would declare her to be righteous in his sight and guarantee her the sure and certain hope of eternal life with him and his people forever.
You can't earn forgiveness
The good news of the gospel is that forgiveness is available even for the worst of sinners. This is the utter scandal of the Christian faith, and why it is so completely different from all other religions.
Far from being “not a god that I would understand,” a god who could forgive even the sins of Rose West is exactly the God the Bible proclaims, and the God who is made know and revealed by Jesus Christ.
The good news of the gospel is that forgiveness is available even for the worst of sinners
Forgiveness for our sins is not earned by what we do, nor by putting right what we have done wrong, for the simple reason that none of us could ever do enough to earn forgiveness, nor to put right what we have done. Instead forgiveness is made possible because of what God has done for us.
Murderers in the Bible
The Bible is filled with examples of “deluded monsters” who found the grace and forgiveness of God in Christ. Moses, David and Saul/Paul were all murderers, and yet testify to the way that they found forgiveness by trusting the promises of God. The thief on the cross was a terrorist murderer, equivalent to an Islamic State murderer, and yet in the final moments of his life he recognised Jesus as king and put his faith and trust in him, so Jesus promised that he would be with him forever in paradise.
Church history tells of numerous men and women who had committed appalling acts of abuse, oppression and violence, and yet who found grace and mercy in Christ. The Atlantic slave trade of the 18th century was barbaric and caused untold suffering to millions, yet John Newton found mercy in Christ and wrote 'Amazing Grace'. As I have written before, there is good reason to believe that some of the Nazi war criminals who were executed after the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials in 1946 turned to Christ and trusted him for forgiveness, as the result of the ministry of a Lutheran chaplain while they were in prison.
I wouldn’t want to make any claims about Rose West, and it is not my place to do so. It is impossible for us to know the reality or otherwise of her faith, whether she has genuinely repented, and whether her life is now exhibiting the signs of grace and new birth. However, if we believe the apostolic gospel of the New Testament we must believe and proclaim that it is possible for someone like Rose West to receive the forgiveness of God, and that his forgiveness is received simply by asking God for forgiveness.
The worst act in history was not the murders committed by Rose West, but the judicial murder of Jesus. If we had been there at the time we would all have joined with the crowds, Jewish leaders, and Roman authorities in calling for his death. We are complicit in this great act of god-abuse and deicide, of which our lesser sins are a symptom.
We were created in the image of God to worship and glorify him, but we have all become "deluded monsters" who have rebelled against him and sought to do away with him to avoid his rule over our lives.
Our only hope is what Christ has done for us, and the glorious promise of justification by faith for all those who confess Jesus as Lord and God.
The fact that there was mercy for Paul despite his persecution of Christians, which amounted to persecution of Christ himself (Acts 9:4-5), means that there is the possibility of mercy even for Rose West, and potential mercy for us: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
The fact that God could forgive even a Rose West is both the scandal and the glory of the gospel.
John Stevens is the national director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) and one of the pastors of Christchurch Market Harborough. He's also a member of the Affinity Council and the Word Alive Event Organising Team, and a trustee of UCCF and AT3. He blogs at john-stevens.com where this article first appeared.