Keeping the Faith

Why Chan and Sukumaran Deserve Mercy

Better to know your hour of death, or not? Great dinner party conversation starter there, albeit macabre. Generally the consensus is in the negative.

With knowledge, we can make a controlled exit; one without loose ends, skeletons in closets or untended grievances.

Without knowledge, we can slip away blissfully unaware.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will know the date, hour, place and method of their death. It’s looking less and less likely that the two Australians of the Bali Nine drug smugglers will receive clemency from the Indonesian government and judiciary, meaning their executions will be carried out in coming weeks.

They have languished in prison since their arrest in 2005 – since they made the mother-of-all stupid decisions.

“Mercy!” the international community has cried. But letters and petitions and events and pleas have fallen on the deaf ears of president Joko Widodo who is intent on upholding the death-by-firing-squad sentence for their crimes. It’s the way things have been done since 1964.

Myuran Sukumaran, who runs art classes for inmates, painted these portraits of Andrew Chan (left) and himself.

Myuran Sukumaran, who runs art classes for inmates, painted these portraits of Andrew Chan (left) and himself.

I wonder if they will need to be woken.

Seventy-two hours after they have been advised of their execution date, Chan and Sukumaran will be stirred from their sleep in the middle of the night, dressed in a white shirt and taken to separate grassy locations. Why grassy? No idea, but it’s there in all the descriptions of the procedure.

Chan and Sukumaran will have three minutes to collect themselves.

A blindfold will be tied around their head and they will be given the option to stand, sit or kneel. A doctor will make a mark on their white shirts just above the heart.

The commander will then give the signal to fire and all 12 executioners who make up the firing squad will take aim and pull the trigger on their firearms. Only three of the 12 guns will be loaded with live ammunition, the rest being blanks.

This all takes place simultaneously (as a psychological kindness), each firing squad peppering their criminal with bullets at the same time.

If the prisoner is still alive it is the commander’s job to walk the 5-10 metres to their body and issue a bullet point-blank at their head.

A few words come to mind. Disturbing. Barbaric. Merciless.

Here’s the sticking point – not that the prisoners are innocent, but that the penalty for their crime gives no room for changed character and remorse. Nor does it give opportunity for forgiveness to be extended.

And so we cry, “Mercy!” A one-word plea filling headlines.

Such is the pattern of life. We rely on mercy in relationships at all levels and we’re fortunate that it is often granted.

A police officer issues a warning for a speeding offence rather than a fine.

A woman forgives the harsh words of her friend.

An employer gives his staff another chance to improve performance.

The greatest example of mercy I know is in the relationship between God and us. We stuff up, over and over and over again. But he keeps taking us back.

The chasm between humanity and God should be greater than that between the Indonesian government and a drug smuggler. But it’s not. God closed the gap by sending Jesus to die in our place, so that the sword of judgement would be blunted. God extended mercy (deliverance from judgement) and grace (kindness despite our unworthiness).

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The preceding verses illuminate God’s omnipotence, the fact that nothing is hidden from him and everything will be “laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Whether we are the president of Indonesia or a convicted drug smuggler on death row, God’s love, grace and mercy is available.

Seems stingy not to offer the same.

First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday February 9, 2015.


  1. Brons Email says

    Love how you weave Christian values into current topical events -sobering perspective today Claire 🙂 Bronwyn

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. There are those who say that the Indonesian Government is fully justified in sentencing these guys to death, those who say that drug trafficking is worthy of death because of the destruction it brings to others and that repentance and rehabilitation does not negate their crime.
    Yet others see things differently. The outcry for mercy has intensified with many in the media, politics and others giving heart-felt pleas for clemency.
    But whichever way you view this, can you see how precious our lives are?
    I’m grateful to God that he has shown me mercy and given me a life, in spite of my foolishness.
    I find this verse encouraging: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

    Thanks Claire.

Comments are closed.