Capital Punishment Revisited

My last post has generated much response and controversy and so I have decided to deal more concisely with this matter. Please bear with me as this might be kinda long.

Some Clarification

For starters, let me clarify what I was saying in my initial response to the request that I share my opinion on capital punishment. What I was trying to say (and I admit that I should have made this more clear) was that, while capital punishment is a Scriptural mandate, we as the individual have no right to enact this form on justice. My main reason in my previous post was because Jesus clearly tells us to turn the other cheek.

I also never said, nor did I imply it, that people should not be punished for their wrongdoings. When someone breaks the law, they must be prepared to face the consequences thereof.

Response to Criticism

The first note of criticism that I want to address is that which came from Larry Johnson. He stated, in part,

If you are consistent with your interpretation, the state must not only not proscribe the death penalty but they can’t even “resist the one who is evil”. That would be absurd!…What a wicked society would erupt if America followed consistently your interpretation of that passage….

I must respond to this with a question. How is it wicked to live as Jesus commanded?

I happen to believe that Jesus’ teachings extend much more deeply than merely to how we live our individual lives. If we are going to claim to be a Christian nation (as MANY Americans want to claim), then we MUST live out the commands of Jesus. After all, this is the only way to properly fulfill the definition of “Christian,” which means, as is so often pointed out, “Little Christ.”

The early church was mocked for their adherence to Jesus’ teachings. They were told that what they were doing was “absurd,” as has been above asserted by a fellow believer.

Turning the other cheek and not resisting the one who is evil does not make us a door mat, as many (Christians) want to claim. Rather, this is the most perfect form of civil disobedience.

A silly example, but one which I think will make the point, comes from the latest Ben Stiller film, Night At the Museum. Throughout the film, there is a monkey that really gives Ben a hard time. Eventually, Robin Williams steps in and asks Mr. Stiller who the higher lifeform is; who has evolved. Ben was acting like the monkey. He was slapping the monkey as the monkey slapped him. This lesson carries on through the entire film. The point is that man is not an animal, but he is something more. He has a higher form of intelligence, and he must live like it. Fighting back is an animal instinct. It should not be a human one. We should have evolved beyond that.

Turning the other cheek shows that we are the better man. It shows that we are unwilling to lower ourselves to the jungle instinct of “you hit me so I hit back.”

Another question comes to mind, and that is the issue of what we teach our children. A good parent teaches their child not to hit the kid who won’t share, but rather to ask politely and not be rude. What happens when, one day, a child is watching the news and hears the president say that, in response to someone blowing up a couple of our buildings that America is going to bomb an entire city? What kind of example does that set for our children? Do the commands of Jesus to love our enemies and not be a jerk only apply to children? They might. Afterall, Jesus did tell us that unless we convert and become like children we will never enter the kindom of God.

And this brings me to response to The Underminer. He stated,

I guess you’ve discovered a contradiction in the Bible. God commands a murderer to be put to death, Christ says not to. I guess we’ll just have to accept God the Father and God the Son just don’t see eye to eye on this one.

While I sense that this was stated in sarcasm, I think there is a very valid point here. What Jesus taught does indeed seem to be in contradiction to what the Old Testament states. Of course, we know that this is not true. And this is something that we must wrestle with.

Obviously, Jesus did not do away with the stoning law. When a woman caught in adultry was brought to Him, He didn’t tell them not to stone her. In fact, He stayed out of it until they pushed Him on the matter. But, as was His way, He didn’t say what they expected. After doodling in the sand some more, He told them that they could go ahead and stone her. He called her out as guilty. But He also called every one of them out as guilty when He said that the sinless one could go first. Interestingly enough, the sinless one crouched back down and continued His sand art.

I pose the quote/question again:

Are we defending life
When we just pick and choose
Lives acceptable to lose
And which ones to defend
– Derek Webb

Closing Comments

I think what this all boils down to is this: Who’s government are we truly under? Who’s laws are we to most completely abide by? Are we Americans first and Christians second? Are we Christians first and Americans second? Or, are we followers of Jesus first, Christians second, and Americans last?

We talk all the time about being in the world but not of the world. Isn’t it a worldly attitude that desires the death of a fellow human being?

If the whole Saul to Paul thing would have happened in this day and age, wouldn’t Paul be considered a prime candidate for the death penalty?

It also boils down to what the difference is between justice and vengence. Justice is one thing. God has, to some degree, placed justice in our hands. We are responsible for making sure there exists justice in this twisted and messed up world that we live in. But, vengence is not our’s to show. Revenge is not ours to pay. This belongs to God and God alone.

But God chooses to have mercy. Every day that He tarries is another day that He has chosen to stay His mighty hand. God, every day, turns the other cheek as we, His own children, neglect His commands. He does not resist the one who is evil. He didn’t at the cross, and He doesn’t resist us today. We mess up, and instead of smiting us, He gives us grace.

A local bank has a wonderful statement on their sign this week. In the bright orange LED lights, it states, “God’s children should reflect their Father’s likeness.” God is merciful and gracious and compassionate. His children should be too.

There is absolutely nothing absurd about embracing the man who killed your wife or raped your daughter or murdered by genocide thousands of people. At least not in the eyes of God. We, the church, His bride, is raped, spat upon, misled, cut open every day and He still calls us His own.

Are we defending life
When we just pick and choose
Lives acceptable to lose
And which ones to defend

‘Cause you cannot choose your friends
But you choose your enemies
And what if they were one
One and the same

Could you find a way
To love them both the same
To give them your name – Derek Webb

Jesus forgave His accusers. He forgave His killers. He forgives His followers when they betray Him. He has made us a part of His family. Are we willing to follow His example?

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