25 August 2012
The Beast of Blenheim?
by Dr Philip Church
The media kept us regularly updated a couple of weeks ago with the life and times of Stewart Murray Wilson who has been dubbed “the Beast of Blenheim.” He was out of the public eye for a few days, but is now back on the front page with his imminent release from prison this week. He seems to be a rather unsavoury character, who carried out a series of sexual crimes in and around Blenheim several years ago. He was apprehended, charged, found guilty and incarcerated for quite a long time. He is now about to be released to live in a yet-to-be-prepared house somewhere near Whanganui, under very strict conditions. There are several conditions he must meet, including wearing a GPS device that tracks his movements so that the authorities know where he is at all times. Understandably, due to the nature of his crimes, there has been an uproar. This is the classic NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome. I don’t know the details of his crimes, and indeed I don’t need to know them. Apparently, though, he has “done the time” and can no longer be held in prison. He needs to live somewhere. I would probably also be concerned if he was to live in my neighbourhood.
But all this is peripheral to my blog. What I am questioning is the media’s ongoing references to him as a “beast” with the implication that he is somehow sub-human. For me this raises the question of the image of God. What does it mean to be human and how low do you need to go to no longer qualify?
The opening page of the Bible claims that we humans are made in the image of God, a notion that has been debated at least since the time of Aquinas, and no doubt before that. As I read the text it seems that one aspect of God’s image means that humans are set apart from the rest of creation. Indeed, we are to rule over the rest of creation, another claim that has been subject to endless debate which I don’t really want to get into.
Psalm 8, which my former Hebrew teacher refers to as “Genesis 1 set to music,” extrapolates from the image of God text that we humans actually have great dignity. As the Good News Bible so nicely renders verse 5 (addressing God), “Yet you made them [humans] inferior only to yourself, you crowned them with glory and honour.” The Psalmist felt insignificant when compared with the vastness of the night sky, but then realised that since he was in God’s image, he was truly significant; inferior only to God.
The Book of Hebrews carries on the conversation, quoting Psalm 8 and explaining that it is to be read as indicating that God has made the world to come, that is, the new heaven and earth, subject to humans. God’s plan, according to this reading, was to make humans in his image to rule over creation as his vicegerents and with his authority. We don’t see this in place at present, says the author of Hebrews, but we see Jesus, a true human being, now crowned with glory and honour. He is seated at the right hand of God having gone through death for everyone, and his exaltation is as a pioneer (Heb 2:10), so that where he is, we ultimately follow. Humans, made in God’s image, have enormous significance in God’s purposes. He is redeeming the whole of creation and we will ultimately have a part in ruling over the new creation.
So, what about the so-called “beast of Blenheim""? Where do unsavoury people like this fit in this picture?
I do find it disconcerting that this man Stuart Murray Wilson a fellow human being like you and me, is constantly referred to as the “beast.” He is not a “beast.” He may be a serious criminal, but he is still human. That means that Jesus died so that he could be redeemed and transformed and have a part in the ultimate rule over the new creation. That possibility remains open. The description of Hebrews 2:8, “We do not, however, see human beings ruling over all things now” is an apt description of this man. Like us all he has made a mess of his life, and is not fulfilling God’s purposes for humanity. He may never do so, but this does not make him sub-human. Rather than calling him a “beast” the media would do well to show some compassion and refer to him with some of the dignity that his as a fellow human being. And those of us who have experienced the grace of God in Christ could respond by praying for this man, for God’s grace to take hold of him.