What more appropriate title could be given to a situation in which a mother drowns her five children and immediately receives support from so many: the National Organization of Women, national columnists, and Katie Couric, who helped set up a legal defense fund on national television! The woman has practically been hailed as a saint, and now the chase is on to find someone else to blame for her actions.

Some are wanting to blame professionals who should have seen this coming; others want to hold her husband responsible for making her have all those children (apparently she had never heard of birth control pills). And if everything else fails, then she should be found not guilty on the basis of her state of mind. Kathleen Parker writes that seeking the death penalty for this woman does not make any sense: "The woman isn't a criminal; she is mentally ill" (The Dallas Morning News, August 14th, 11A).

Well, now, exactly where do we find mentally ill in the Bible? It is not there. This may be a hard fact for some to digest, but not all of us are enamored with Freud and psychological theories which vary from person to person and from decade to decade. When someone bandies about terms such as mentally ill, psychotic, insanity, and various other descriptions, not all of us are ready to raise our eyebrows as if suddenly enlightened by a great master from the East and say, "Oh, of course." We have only one standard by which to evaluate all things, and that is the Word of God. The obvious question for Christians to ask is, "What saith the Scriptures?" Has God spoken on this issue?

Characteristics of Madness

People were familiar as far back as in the Old Testament era (over 3,000 years ago) with those who were not in their right minds. Although there are other references, we will look primarily at 1 Samuel 21:10-15. David was fleeing Saul, and he went to the land of the Philistines to get away. Apparently, Achish, the king of Gath, was content for David to live there until some of his servants pointed out that he was the one who was celebrated in song for killing tens of thousands. Surely the fact that those whom David had slain included Goliath and many of the Philistines was not overlooked. Now David began to fear the king of Gath.

And he changed his behavior before them, feigned madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let saliva fall down on his beard. Then Achish said, "Look, you see the man is insane. Why have you brought him to me? Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?" (1 Sam. 21:13-15).

Notice what actions of David were associated with madness: scratching on doors and drooling. David had seen those who were genuinely mad, and the Philistines had too. David knew how to pretend to be mad, and Achish knew the symptoms. They did not include harming other people--but rather making oneself look foolish. No one considered such a person a threat because he had lost rationality. A mad person did not summon his children and try to drown them; those are the actions of an evil/b> person.

Jesus and Paul were both accused of being mad, but it was not for their actions they were accused; instead it was for what they were teaching. When Jesus proclaimed that He was the good shepherd Who would lay down His life for the sheep (and that no one could take His life from Him), His opponents said, "He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?" (John 10:20). They did not make such a foolish charge because of any irrational actions of the Lord, but because they did not understand His teaching. Since it did not make sense to their uncircumcised ears, they concluded that Jesus must be speaking gibberish.

Likewise, because Festus could not follow the logic of Paul, he concluded that Paul's great learning had driven him mad (Acts 26:24-25). Once again, however, there was nothing in Paul's actions to suggest insanity; the words that he spoke were beyond Festus' ability to comprehend adequately.

Another example of concluding that one is mad on the basis of speech is found in 1 Corinthians 14:23, in which Paul says that if an outsider comes into the assembly and sees everyone speaking in different languages, "will they not say you are out of your mind?"

In 2 Peter 2:16 the apostle writes that Balaam "was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man's voice restrained the madness of the prophet." Most of us would probably begin to think we were mad if a donkey spoke to us. The prophet had become irrational with his beast of burden who had stopped three times to avoid being slain by the Angel of the Lord. Rather than striking the donkey, he should have asked, "What was causing such unusual behavior on its part?" His madness, then involved incorrect reasoning.

All that we can find, then, about madness is that it causes people to reason illogically (or to be accused of it) and that it makes people perform silly--but harmless--actions that are not normal. No one described in the Bible as mad or insane went on a killing spree.

Types of Murder

God recognizes but very few distinctions for murder: the four types are premeditated, unpremeditated (in the heat of passion), accidental (manslaughter), and self-defense. Anyone committing the first two of these is counted as guilty and worthy of the death penalty; the latter two carry no penalty. The city of refuge was set up for the one who accidently (there was no intent to kill the person) slew a fellow human being. Abner's situation constitutes one of self-defense. Asahel kept pursuing him, and Abner pleaded with him to desist. Asahel refused to quit; Abner was forced to kill him (or be killed) (2 Sam. 2:22-23). God did not condemn Abner for what he had done; neither did David. Anyone would have acted in the same manner.

Capital Punishment

God instituted capital punishment in Genesis 9:6:

Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.

Notice what God also told Israel later:

'So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it' (Num. 35:33).

We are not under the Law of Moses or the Old Testament. God gives the same authority to exercise capital punishment to civil authorities in the New Testament, however (Rom. 13:1-7), and in the case of Andrea Yates, the state should seek the death penalty and implement it, public protests notwithstanding.

This woman committed a heinous crime; there is no Biblical precedent for madness to include such revolting actions. She has now become the center of attention; everyone seems concerned about her--as if she were the victim. The blood of her five children is screaming to be heard, and few are lamenting the deaths of these innocents in their eagerness to defend the guilty.

What is wrong with this society that the deaths of innocent children do not bother us (yes, we are including those killed through abortion), yet we are so eager to save, counsel, defend, and yes, even exalt murderers? If anyone is insane, it is society, who cannot bring itself to judge someone who is clearly guilty of a vicious crime! Miss Parker writes:

In any case, the woman is insane, and the death penalty would be an equally insane sentence. Even if you believe in capital punishment, which I no longer do, you would be hard-pressed to determine that Ms. Yates is a danger to society or that she acted with malicious intent.

That kind of reasoning is mad! On what basis has it been determined that Andrea Yates is insane and did not act with malicious intent? There is nothing easier to claim than insanity; David did it. No one should have ever been judged "not guilty" on the basis of insanity.

Even if a person were insane when she killed someone (and the Bible does not describe insanity that way), it would make no difference. This episode is not about Andrea Yates and what happens to her; it is about her five dead children! No one forced her to do anything; she did it of her own accord; she made the choice--the conscious decision to take the lives of her children. She knew it was wrong; she called the police afterward. She is worthy of death. It is indeed lamentable to see the outpouring of sympathy for the devil.

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL (09/16/01)"

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