But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. –1 John 3:5-6
Frank James, the brother of Jesse James, is buried in Hill Park, a sleepy suburban green space in Independence, Missouri. Unlike Jesse, Frank lived to a ripe old age, dying in 1915 and buried under a somewhat misleading headstone reading “Alexander F. James.”
A few months after Jesse died at the hand of Robert Ford, Frank James made a visit to the governor of Missouri, handing him his gun and surrendering. Frank James, it seems, was tired of living as a fugitive. In the months that followed, James faced charges in both Missouri–for a robbery that ended in the murder of an engineer–and in Alabama–for the robbery of an Army Corps of Engineers payroll. In neither case would this Confederate veteran and hero of folk mythology be found guilty. James successfully resisted extradition to Minnesota to answer for the ill-fated Northfield raid until the end of his days. Still, those and charges always hung over him, even as, in his waning days, he charged a quarter to those who wanted to visit the James family farm.
The case of Jesse and Frank James is a complicated one, intertwined with the injustices of the American Civil War and the later industrial excesses. Regardless of mitigating circumstances, though, it cannot be denied that these men robbed and killed people who had done them no harm. Their crimes cannot be ignored.
Similarly, my crimes, although not as bloody or headline-worthy, cannot be simply ignored. They do not go away just because I am not discovered today. They remain over me, threatening me, unless . . .
Unless as John Milton puts it “one greater man restore us, and regain the blissful seat.” Only in Christ do our sins actually go away. Only Jesus can deliver us from lives as fugitives.