A chaplain in San Quentin Prison wrote a book, an A excerpt of which appeared recently in the Reader’s Digest. In this selection the chaplain tells of visiting a man who had been confined to Death Row for nearly 11 months. This man—a neurotic and alcoholic—had strangled two women during a drunken orgy.

The chaplain talked with the prisoner for at least 40 minutes before the condemned man went into the gas chamber to die. The two conversed about education, about art, about sports. But the prisoner went to his death with no invitation to God. Nonetheless, the chaplain found himself praying that God would receive the condemned man, found himself wondering if he had witnessed not only a case of retribution, but also a crucifixion.

One disturbing sentence in the chaplain’s account gleams with neon sharpness: “I haven’t mentioned religion.” Then he adds: “Perhaps it is not necessary to speak God’s words in order to serve His purpose. Just being there with Richard Cooper in his last moments may be enough to show him that no man is ever completely cast out, or completely alone.”

With but 40 minutes left of a man’s earthly existence, the chaplain discussed education, art, and sports—but no religion! Of what use are education, art, and sports to a doomed man? Only a few more heartbeats and the man will be finished with all earthly things. Only 2,400 seconds more of time—and they talk about baseball!

Perhaps hundreds of clergymen read this article and silently cried, “Why couldn’t I have been there to speak at least one ‘thus saith the Lord’ to this man poised on the brink of eternity?”

Granted, the Word may have come too late, or the man may have been past the point of acceptance, or he may have rejected the message. But who can tell—he ...

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