Sympathy for the Devil?

It’s been two months now since the new Government took control in the UK and I’ve been broadly very pleased with what’s going on. I am, on the whole, a big David Cameron fan. However all that changed yesterday. Questioned about a Facebook page expressing sympathy for Raol Moat, our Prime Minister had this to say.

It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story. I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man. There should be sympathy for his victims and the havoc he wreaked in that community. There should be no sympathy for him.


If you go to the Facebook page (you can find it easily if you really want to) you’ll read a number of messages on the wall. Some are offensive, make no mistake, but others are come from a genuine source of compassion for Moat. As we’re now learning, Moat may have been a troubled, violently aggressive man who was rightly locked up for physically abusing his child, but at the same time he was a wounded, at times extraordinarily emotionally aware, victim of circumstance who was reaching out desperately for help.

Yes, he was paranoid about the Police stalking him and trying to find reasons to put him away, but at the same time he was imploring social workers to help him understand why he responded so violently to things that happened to him. While none of this in any way excuses his attempts to murder three people (one of whom of course died from gun shot wounds), it should provoke us to question the Prime Minister whether Moat was simply “a callous murderer, full stop“. In contrast to this rather superficial analysis that David Cameron has presented to the nation, the evidence from the events and the aftermath of last week helps draw quite a different picture.

The impression that I have picked up from the media is of a man who flew off the handle in a dangerous way once he discovered the mother of his children living with another man. However, once he had committed his crimes of murder and attempted murder, instead of what most perpetrators of a “planned rampage” do, namely find a quiet corner and finish off their lives (see for example the case of Derrick Bird in June who fits the classic profile of such a killer), Moat retreated to a place of safety and familiarity, a place that he associated with comfort and security. In some senses the actions of Moat were similar to my toddler son, who when he’s done something wrong, knows it and realises his guilt, comes crying to either Gayle or myself and buries his head in our shoulder looking for assurance and forgiveness. These are the actions of a man whose last recorded words before he shot himself were, “I’ve no dad. No one cares for me”.

In that sense Moat is no different from you or me. Though the scale of his crimes in the eyes of the law might be more serious then the ones you or I have committed, in a spiritual sense we’re all just the same. “All have sinned”, says St Paul, “and all fall short of the glory of God”. When we attempt to single out one person’s sin and demonise them for it, often such an approach is accompanied by a refusal to accept our own situation of falleness and judgement by God. But of course, St Paul reveals the wonderful truth straight after this record of condemnation, reporting that those who are under sentence of death “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”. That’s the heart of the gospel, that the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon believes.

Of course the work of the Devil is to prevent us from realising the great salvation we have in Christ. Sometimes he does this by convincing us that we’re not really sinners, that what the Scripture tells us separates us from God is in fact good and holy, and in doing so the Devil helps us walk the path towards judgement and hell. Other times he keeps us from God by making us believe that we are too evil, too sinful for forgiveness and love, preventing us from coming to Jesus and receiving the salvation that is free to all who repent and accept him as Lord and saviour. And sometimes he does both at once, making us condemn others unreservedly and convincing ourselves that since we’re not actually as bad as that evil paedophile/murderer/arsonist/rapist/fraudster that we’re therefore actually quite good.

So do I have sympathy in this case? Well, I certainly have sympathy for those who were the direct victims of Moat’s crimes and their families and friends who have suffered much these past two weeks. I have sympathy for the men and women of Rothbury and Northumbria who have had their lives disturbed and have lived sometimes in fear of what might happen next. I have sympathy for Moat’s family, who through no fault of their own have been on the end of a barrage of compassion and condemnation from those they live alongside.

And Raol Moat? Yes, I have sympathy for him, because like so many of the broken people I meet every day he was obviously a unique mix of fallen nature and good intentions. While like all of us he is responsible for his actions, like all of us his actions often came from subconscious responses to wounds in the past.

And finally, do I have sympathy for the Devil, the Satan, the one who tempts us to think things that are not true, to believe that the spiritual realities are not what they really are, to make us condemn when we should forgive?

Who knows, but I think I’ll give David Cameron one more chance.

2 Comments on “Sympathy for the Devil?

  1. Thanks for this Peter. For what it's worth, I basically agree with you here…

    There's also Romans 2:1ff – not to mention this, from the Quakers' Advices and Queries: "Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society's conventions or its laws…" (from no 33).

    in friendship, Blair

  2. 'Please allow me to introduce myself

    I'm a man of wealth and taste

    I've been around for a long, long year

    Stole many a man's soul and faith …'

    I took a quick look a the headline and the photo and I thought that you were announcing a change in political conviction! Then I read the post …. :-)

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