The Third Question

Good afternoon, Jake Ames. I’m Doctor Bill Wharton, your court-appointed psychiatrist. Just call me Bill. Have a seat and let’s get started.

“Just call me Bill”? Trying to do the brotherhood of man thing? What good’s that to me? I’m doing life for three murders. Three counts, to run consecutively.

I’m not negligent of my duty. I know all that the law knows about you, and more. I dispense with formalities with all my clients. The “brotherhood of man” is a useful concept. What it means to me is that if not for the grace of God, I would be sitting where you are now. For the same reason or worse.

“The grace of God”. What’s that mean? I hear it every now and then, usually from some self-righteous idiot who won’t admit he’s the same as me. But I know things about some preachers and one priest that would make civilized sheep like you throw up. You know, “Bill”, Hell’s Angels have a saying – “Bad men do what good men dream.” Everyone is like me inside. Even you. Most people just don’t have the courage to act on it.

I’m glad you understand that. It will save us some time.

You’re admitting that you’re a criminal in your mind?

I already said that. Try to pay attention, Jake.

What are you doing talking to me then? Do you want fuel for your fantasies, “Bill”?

We agree that all people are alike on the inside, right, Jake? All criminals inside?

Yeah. Try to pay attention, Bill.

[laughs] Good one. Your point. Now let’s talk about why some people don’t act on their criminal desires.

They’re afraid to. Maybe they’re weak. Maybe they know they can’t think fast enough. Maybe they don’t trust their luck not to get caught.

All of those and one more: the grace of God. Do you know what that means?

It’s just an excuse to cover up what I just said.

Not for me. I don’t lack the courage. I was a firefighter until I lost part of my left lung to cancer. I’ve gone into buildings that were on the verge of collapsing on top of me because we thought there was someone still inside. I didn’t trust luck, though. I trusted my partner. “The grace of God” means that you asked God to be your partner. He is able to be your partner if and only if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, Whom God the Father sent from Heaven to live without sin and be horribly executed on false charges. Since He never sinned, His death can substitute for our own. We deserve death because of our sins. He didn’t.

Why would He do that?

Your mother’s current address and phone number is in your file. If I called her and asked her if she loves you, what would she say?

You shut up about my mother. If you call her I’ll-

What would she say?

IF YOU CALL HER I’LL TEAR YOUR HEAD OFF AND SHOVE-

SIT DOWN, JAKE! … I didn’t say I was going to call her. I said, IF I called her and asked her if she loves you, what would she say?

You … dirty … creep …

Her answer is all through these pages. She loves you, Jake. She visits you when she can. Can’t be pleasant for a sixty-year-old woman to walk into this prison and see her son here. To know that he’s murdered three people. She sends you cookies, Jake. She writes to you. It’s obvious she loves you, Jake. WHY does she love you?

[sobbing] I … don’t …know! Damn  you!

Love doesn’t have to have a reason, Jake. God sent His Son Jesus to live a life without sin, and you know how hard that is. You can’t do it. And then Jesus had to be executed. Even though He never did anything wrong. So that if you choose to believe in Him, when your name comes up on the Judgment Day, it will be in God’s Book of Life, and you will be deemed innocent, because your crimes and sins have already been paid for.

You’re on Death Row, Jake. If they execute you, it will be by lethal injection, and you’ll just go to sleep. You won’t feel a thing. But Jesus was crucified. Have you ever thought about what it’s like to be crucified, Jake?

…. no … but it must be hell …

Hell is burning for eternity in a lake of fire, Jake. That’s what’s waiting for you and every other human being if they’re not believers in Jesus when they die.

…[mumbling] …

Jake, those people you murdered – were they believers in Jesus?

I DON’T KNOW!  HOW THE HELL WOULD I KNOW?

If they weren’t, Jake, you sent them into the lake that burns with fire forever. Did they deserve that?

LEAVE ME ALONE! GET OUT OF HERE! GUARD! TAKE ME BACK TO MY CELL!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One month later:

Hello again, Jake. What did you want to see me about?

I’ve been thinking about what you said. About God loves me. I can’t believe that. I’m … evil. I’ve been seeing the killings in my sleep and they keep asking me why and I don’t know what to say and I … hear someone … some thing … laughing in those dreams, and it scares me so bad … Preach- I mean, Doct-

– Bill. Just Bill.

OK, Bill. What’s happening to me? Is God torturing me? If He loves me, why these nightmares?

Jake, if God didn’t love you, He’d let you forget your guilt. Let you face it when you die, when it’s too late to be forgiven.

I need help. I need something … to help me to believe. To know it’s real.

Jake, when Jesus was crucified, they crucified two thieves also. One of them joined the mob in mocking Jesus as they all hung there dying. But the other thief … he knew something, and he acted on it. Jesus was a wildly popular man. A rock star. A celebrity. People talked about Him all the time, and one thing was clear: Jesus didn’t ever do anything wrong. So this one thief, hearing the other one mocking Jesus, was shocked. He said to the mocker, “Aren’t you afraid of God’s anger, even when we’re dying? We’re getting what we deserve, but this man, Jesus, He hasn’t done anything wrong!”

And then this thief did something remarkable. He didn’t know any religious formulas. He just knew that he was dying and deserved to die. He spoke to Jesus and all he could think of to say was, “Lord, remember me, when you come into Your own!”

Jake, Jesus fought through the agony and replied, “I tell you the truth – today you will be with Me in Paradise!”

That was all it took. Now I’m going to ask you two or three questions, Jake.[smiling] Try to pay attention. Do you deserve to die?

Yes. Yes, I deserve to die.

Did Jesus deserve to die?

I guess not. I mean, I don’t know, but you say-

That’s not good enough, Jake. Go back to your cell and ask the guard to get you a New Testament. Read it until you can decide. Then I’ll ask you the third question.

OK. Alright. I’ll do that.

See you soon, I hope.

Three days later:

[phone ringing] Doctor Wharton, call for you on line three. It’s the prison hospital.

Thank you, Angie … Wharton here. How can I help you?

This is Andy Massengill. I’m in the prison hospital, Bill. Something crazy just happened, and I was given a message for you.

I’m listening.

You’ve seen a Jake Ames several times recently, correct?

Yes. Is he alright?

[heavy sigh] No, Bill, he’s dead. He got into a fight with another prisoner, and that other prisoner had a knife, and by the time the guards pulled him off, Jake was dying.

Ah no.

The investigation is only beginning, but it’s so incredible I wanted to tell you about it. And there’s the message. I know this will be hard to believe, but other prisoners say it’s true: the prisoner who attacked Jake did so because he was cursing, and Jake said, “Stop using Jesus’ name like that! He was a good man! Don’t use His name for a curse!” And the knifer went ballistic … Bill? You there? What am I hearing?

I’m losing it, Andy. Sorry. What was the message?

Jake was holding his guts in with his hands until the EMTs reached him. He told them, and lived long enough to tell me too, “Tell Doctor Bill I said he was innocent! That thief was right! And I’m going to Paradise!”

Bill , what was that all about?

Later, Andy. I have to have a private moment for a while. I can’t thank you enough for passing on that message. It means more than I can tell you right now. I’ll call you in a couple of days. Has Jake’s mother been told yet?

No. Good grief, we’ve just finished scrubbing up after trying to save Jake.

Tell the warden for me that I want to be the one to notify his mother, will you? Lean on him if you have to. I have a reason.

You got it. No one wants that duty anyway. [click]

[laughing and crying] Well, Jake, you made it! Thank You, God, for Your unreasonable love! Thank You, Jesus, for Your sacrifice! Jake is with You now, so I’ll ask You to pass on a message for me. Just tell Jake I’ll make sure his mother knows where he is, and that he’s alright.

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