Crimes of the Heart

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from 1 John 3:11-18

11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.


This past Lent, I prayed for a murderer. Eleven years ago, a childhood friend was brutally raped and murdered. Nine years ago, a young man was convicted. I didn’t have the stomach to look up the details of the trial or find out the man’s name until this Lent when it became clear that if Jesus could pray for his own murderers and beg his Father’s mercy, I could pray for this young man. And to do that, I had to find out his name and I had to see his face. I could not hold him at a hazy distance.

What is the point of this prayer? After all, 1 John clearly says that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. Does it not mean that this man is beyond redemption? My fervent hope is that the answer is no, for his sake and mine, for in the eyes of God, I too may stand trial for murder. 1 John also states that all those who hate a brother or a sister are murderers. While I am not subject to the law of man for what is in my heart — provided I do not act criminally — I am subject to the law of God, and I will be called upon to account for contempt, disdain, and yes, perhaps even outright hatred for a brother or a sister. When I pray for this man in the hope that he will seek redemption and reconciliation with God, I also pray for myself.

If prayer seems insufficient to you, might it be time to dig deeper? Pray for a murderer. Pray for the person by name and pray as if their soul depended on it. And let us each pray for our own soul in the same way, that on that final day of judgment we do not find that our anger, contempt, and resentment have metastasized into a spiritual murder of a fellow brother or sister for which we must then answer.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

To receive a TLC Daily Devotional in your inbox each morning, click here.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Trinity Episcopal Church, Vero Beach, Fla.
The Diocese of Bo (Church of the Province of West Africa)


Online Archives