Lee Boyd Malvo: Human Justice vs. Divine Justice

Lee Boyd Malvo mug shot

Lee Boyd Malvo mug shot

Lee Boyd Malvo. To anyone who was living in the Washington, D.C. area in October, 2002, that name, along with the name of John Allen Muhammad, is indelibly associated with terror, pain, and death.

Muhammad was tried, convicted, and executed for the series of sniper attacks that killed or maimed thirteen people in the D.C. area that month. This killing spree was the climax of a series of robberies and shootings all across the country.

Muhammad’s accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, was seventeen years old at the time of the D.C. beltway shootings in 2002. Since the law does not allow the death penalty for people who were minors at the time they committed their crimes, Malvo was sentenced instead to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Lee Boyd Malvo today

Now, ten years later, Malvo has granted a rare interview to journalist Josh White of the Washington Post. The Washington Post article reveals that ten years in solitary confinement has given Malvo a lot of time to think about his life . . . and his crimes. In the interview he expresses remorse for what he did, while also detailing the control that Muhammad, whom Malvo looked up to as a father figure, had over his mind and his actions. You can listen to the full interview here.

The issues involved are anything but simple. We humans may never be able to fully sort out the culpability of a seventeen year old boy who was under the influence of a man old enough to be his father, yet who did pull the trigger that resulted in injury or death for dozens of innocent people. Nevertheless, our courts had to do their job. For his crimes, and for the peace of mind of thousands of people whose lives were shattered by his actions, Malvo must now remain in prison as long as he continues to live on this earth.

Human judgment vs. Divine judgment

And what then? How will Malvo fare in the eternal court that will determine his fate in the afterlife?

This, of course, is an issue between Lee Boyd Malvo and God. Though we humans must pass judgment on people’s actions in this world, and sometimes take action against them based on those judgments, it is not our job to pass spiritual judgments on other people.

And the judgments of human courts may not always be the same as the judgment of God. As the Bible tells us, “The Lord does not see things the way humans do. Humans look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Human courts must pass judgments based on a person’s actions, sometimes taking into consideration what we believe to be the motives behind those actions. But unlike God, we cannot see directly into a person’s heart. Therefore we may have to judge guilty those whose actions are wrong, but whose hearts are not truly evil.

In the case of serial or spree killers, we can’t afford to play with the lives of possible future victims. We may hope and believe that the criminal has had a change of heart and would never do it again. But from the outside, we can never know for sure whether the remorse expressed by some repeat killers such as Malvo is genuine, and whether a true change of heart has taken place. We must therefore keep them behind bars.

However, God does see the heart directly, and God can tell whether a true change of heart has taken place. Therefore after Lee Boyd Malvo has completed his sentence here on earth, and metaphorically stands before the judgment seat of God, the verdict might be very different from the one he received in the earthly courts.

Innocence and guilt in the afterlife

Exactly how that judgment takes place in the afterlife will be the subject of a future article. It happens differently than you may think! (Meanwhile, see the article, “What Happens To Us When We Die?”) For now, let’s look at two of the Biblical and spiritual principles involved in divine judgment.

These two principles are spelled out, complete with practical examples, in Ezekiel chapter 18. I highly recommend that you follow the link and read this cogent chapter in its entirety.

Here are the two principles that we find there:

  1. We are not judged for our parents’ actions, but for our own actions.
  2. We are not judged for what we did in the past, but for what we are doing in the present.

How do these principles apply to Lee Boyd Malvo?

  1. To the extent that Malvo, as a minor, was acting under the influence of a parent figure, and not of his own free will, he will not be judged spiritually guilty of the crimes of his youth.
  2. If Malvo has truly had a change of heart (only God knows for sure), truly regrets his actions, and spends the rest of his life living an honest and upright life to the best of his ability, he will not be judged spiritually guilty of the crimes committed in his earlier life.

The surprising truth is that in the afterlife, we are not spiritually convicted or acquitted for anything we have done in our past life on earth. Rather, we are convicted or acquitted based on the character we built through our entire lifetime here on earth, and based on the things we continue to do because of that character. This is in accordance with the principle laid down in Ezekiel 18:

If the wicked turn away from all the sins they have committed and keep all my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. . . . But if the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit sin and do the same detestable things the wicked do, will they live? None of the righteous things they have done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die. (Ezekiel 18:21–22, 24)

The eternal fate of Lee Boyd Malvo

In other words, Lee Boyd Malvo’s eternal fate is in his own hands—just as it is for everyone else who is still living here on earth.

If Malvo is still a killer at heart, and his expressions of regret and remorse are only a show intended to gain him leniency, then he will receive the eternal sentence of spiritual death commonly referred to as hell. The hellfire he will then experience is not literal fire, but is the figurative—yet even more real—fire of burning anger and hatred toward others, and of others’ fierce anger and hatred toward him. (For more on the real nature of hell, see the article “Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?”)

But if Malvo has truly turned from the evil ways of his youth, and has committed himself to what is just and right, then despite the just condemnation of the earthly courts for the crimes of his youth, he will be given a divine sentence of eternal life. He will be freed from his earthly prison and accepted into heaven. There, instead of the pain and suffering he brought to so many people on earth, he will spend his days serving others and providing for their happiness and wellbeing.

Those whose lives were torn apart by Muhammad and Malvo’s actions may say, with the ancient Israelites, “The way of the Lord is not just!” (Ezekiel 18:25). They may want Malvo to burn in hell forever for his crimes.

God replies to the charge of injustice:

Hear, house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? . . . Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:25, 31)

God does not want anyone to burn in hell. Rather, God wants those who have done evil to turn from their evil ways, and live.

For a related article, see “Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?).”


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Current Events, Pain and Suffering, The Afterlife

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