by Samuel Jack
I don’t think any of us could have missed the fact that the United States now has a new President. With all eyes on Donald Trump, there wasn’t much attention being paid to what President Obama was doing in his last few days in office. One of the things he was doing was pardoning people.
On Tuesday 17th January President Obama granted clemency to 273 convicted criminals. One of them was Chelsea Manning who was convicted of publishing state secrets on the internet. She was due to be in prison until 2048; instead she’ll walk out on May 17th. In total Obama has shown clemency to 1927 people during his presidency. That sounds a lot, but it pales next to Franklin Roosevelt’s record: he pardoned 3,687 during his time, though he did serve 12 years in office.
How can they do it? Because they can! It is a power granted to the President by the constitution of the United States. He has almost unlimited power to pardon anybody he chooses for any crime committed against the United States. Nobody, not congress nor the courts has any power to overturn a presidential pardon.
It is an amazing power. This is what one judge in the US Supreme Court has said about it:
“A pardon reaches both the punishment prescribed for the offence and the guilt of the offender; and when the pardon is full, it releases the punishment and blots out of existence the guilt, so that in the eye of the law the offender is as innocent as if he had never committed the offence. If granted before conviction, it prevents any of the penalties and disabilities consequent upon conviction from attaching ; if granted after conviction, it removes the penalties and disabilities, and restores him to all his civil rights; it makes him, as it were, a new man, and gives him a new credit and capacity.”
Presidents have used this power in various ways in the past. Some presidents have used it to pardon rebels against the government to restore peace. President Clinton used the power to pardon a tax evader after he made a donation to the presidential library. President Ford used the power to pardon his predecessor President Nixon for crimes he committed in office, even before he came to court!
But here’s a question. Could you imagine a president using this power to pardon a person who had committed a terrible crime against himself or his family? Suppose the president had an only son who was kidnapped, cruelly tortured, and then put to death. Could you imagine the president pardoning the ring-leader, setting him free, declaring him innocent, giving him back all his civil rights?
And this is where we see the difference between us and God. It would stretch our imaginations to the limit to conceive of another human being doing that. Yet that is the kind of love God shows to us.
Do you remember Saul of Tarsus? He was a man who thought he loved God. He was obsessive about keeping God’s laws. Yet he hated Jesus. He hated Jesus because Jesus said not one of us is good enough to come to God by ourselves. Jesus said we can only come to God through him. In his hatred for Jesus, Saul started persecuting anybody who followed Jesus. He had them arrested, beaten up, some of them killed. Then, one day, as he was on his was to Damascus to arrest more Christians he was knocked to the ground by a light shining from heaven. Jesus himself appeared to Saul: “Saul, Saul, Why are you persecuting me?”
Saul was left trembling and astonished from that encounter. I don’t believe he was trembling with fear, but with something he’d never experienced before: with love. He had just come face to face with the man he hated most in all the world, the man he’d been persecuting by attacking his loved ones, and that man had pardoned him. He’d forgiven him. He’d declared him innocent as if he’d never committed any offence. He had made him a new man.
Paul later described himself as being the Chief of Sinners and went on to say “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16),
Jesus made an example of Paul. Not an example of judgement, but of mercy. He did it so that you might have hope. Our sin isn’t first of all against other people. Our sin is a personal affront to God. To live without God, to think we can be good enough by ourselves, is to defy God. But God is so rich in mercy that he offers a full pardon to anybody who will receive it from him, to anybody who comes to Jesus Christ and asks Him to be their Saviour.