One More Believer or One Less Murderer
Following last week’s “topic initiator” (which is simply browsing around on New York Times website until I stumble across an article that peaks my interest), the topic of death penalty caught my eye. So I would like to merely touch on the subject. Now I do not fully understand the way the Supreme Court reaches certain verdicts, how they decide which issues are worth their time and which ones are not. But all in all I have to resolve in hope. Hope that the highest court in our freedom-driven country, which has ultimate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, as well as original jurisdiction over a small range of cases, is doing everything within its power to accomplish the goodwill of our nation.
Hope is a tricky thing though. How are we to have hope in a people with fundamental differences than our own? I can place my hope in our government and its leaders, but what if our beliefs are opposing? I’d venture to say that this isn’t a revolutionary predicament. In fact, I know it has been an issue since the beginning of time. In the ancient world, there was royalty and commoners, and then everyone in between. Today the primary difference is what we call them – we have politicians and middle-class workers, and then everyone in between. It doesn’t take an anthropologist to know that all of those people, coming from different upbringings and different cultures, are not going to see eye-to-eye. On the contrary, we will disagree, a lot. We will wage wars, assemble political meetings, seek peace, but find chaos.
Back to the article, “Supreme Court Issues Stay of Execution.” Presently, there is a man in Texas on death parole for the murder of a woman. Just hours before the accused was to be put to death, the Supreme Court stayed his execution to examine an appeal by his lawyers which claimed that his previous lawyers had not adequately contested a key element in the prosecution against him, which was where the victim had been when she was killed.
There are thirty-four states that act in favor of the death penalty and sixteen act without, Texas remains within the top three states to exercise this right. Now despite what the statistics suggest, it is my opinion that every person must come to their own conviction on this topic. Our government can make laws for the majority, and we can be persuaded by facts and figures on the benefits or detriments; but at the end of the day we all must answer to one. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, He is who you answer to. If you are not, then you answer to your own self. Spiritually, morally, ethically, and justly, we have to decide whether it is right for a person to be executed as a result of their crime.
As I have mentioned in many of my previous posts, I believe there is an absolute truth. I do not think that this matter, or any other, is up for interpretation. There is one right and one wrong. Personally, I have not discovered the absolute in the death penalty. But just because I don’t know what it is, does not mean that there isn’t one. Over the last couple of years, as my knowledge and understanding of God and humanity deepens, my opinions and beliefs deepen as well. I can tell you that a couple of years ago I felt certain that I was pro-death-penalty. Today, I feel differently. Yes I believe that God commanded Joshua to lead out the battle of Jericho, destroying every man, woman, and child. God is just and He is sovereign. God sees the “big picture” where we only see minuscule pieces of canvas. (“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”Isaiah 55:8-9)
But let us explore these two passages found in Matthew 5:
21 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny…
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Now there are numerous passages you could find in scripture to support or reject the idea of the death penalty. But there is only one conclusion, and I don’t pretend to fully understand it, yet.
The peace I have come to is this: I am to strive to be as much like Jesus as possible, which means forgiving those who deserve death, just as Jesus did on the cross. But God, who is the Judge, will hold each accountable to their actions, and He doesn’t take murdering the innocent lightly. I am called to be a peacemaker and point others towards the cross, letting God have His way them just as He did me. I would rather have one more fellow believer than one less murderer. I would rather all come to repent and know the grace of God. But sometimes those are the same thing, and sometimes they are not. I say that because I too was once dead in my trespasses.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)