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The Myth of Closure

Eleven years ago, Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection.

They say that as he took his last breath, he stared open-eyed and unremorseful into the closed circuit camera capturing his final moments. Six hundred miles away, the families of his victims gathered to watch McVeigh’s execution. Maybe it would give them some closure.

I read an article this morning about a book about closure. In her new book Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure, law professor Jody Madeira examines the journeys of those affected by the Oklahoma City bombing and their responses to the the trial and execution of McVeigh. What she found is that “closure” is just a word; its meaning varies so drastically from one person to another that it nearly loses meaning. When a person’s world has been shattered, they try to find a way to “move on”, to mark an end to that horrific event. But Madeira observed that sometimes, the only “ending” that a person can experience is acknowledging that the pain won’t ever end. Or as she puts it,

“One’s ability to state that there is no closure is itself closure.”

As a culture that has grown up watching three-act narrative movies, we’ve been trained to expect a happy endings. They all lived happily ever after. But the reality of life is that not everything resolves. Some questions don’t have tidy answers. SPOILER ALERT: Everyone dies.

How can a good God create a world where people like Timothy McVeigh exist? There are no satisfying answers. Sure, there are solutions, as if life and pain were math problems. But to a person struggling in swirling grief, those answers are just words.


The problem with the execution of Timothy McVeigh is that taking his life can’t bring back those who were lost. They’re gone, and he is too. And everyone is looking for closure.

There’s only one execution that brings life instead of death, and that was the execution of Jesus Christ. Because His was only a temporary execution, followed shortly by a profound resurrection. There’s hope.

published June 11, 2012

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