My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

13 December 2005

Man as Savior

Stanley Tookie Williams is dead. The repentant founder of the Crips was put to death this morning by lethal injection at San Quentin prison. Besides the obvious and continuous interest in capital punishment, Williams' death is being framed by many media sources as a story revolving around the question of redemption.

To quote one of his supporters: "
He showed me clearly what would come from becoming a gangbanger -- a life in jail, or worse. Now they're killing him, even though he turned his life around in prison and reformed. Isn't that what prison is supposed to do?'' Turns out Williams repented, not of the murders (which he never admitted to), but of his involvement with and support of gangs. In jail, he wrote children's books against violence and probably turned some away from that life by his writings. Well and good.

But the idea that capital punishment has anything to do with redemption shows how desperately we misunderstand the role of government. Two thoughts spring to mind:

1. It has never been the purpose of government to remediate people. While changing people's hearts toward crime may occur and while the watching public may learn from "striking a scoffer" (Pro. 19:25), these are not the goals. Why? Because the power to change men lies not with men. Government is set in place by the Living God in order to secure justice and peace; it is when justice and peace exist by the power of the government's sword (Rom. 13:4) that the gospel work of changing men and women can be done without roadblocks.

So the government's purpose is justice, to set wrong things right, to provide redress for the widowed and dispossessed. It was not the job of the penal system to change Stanley Williams'; their work was to provide justice to the family of the murdered and to the God in whose image the murdered were created.

2. But...man's innate tendency to look to something or someone other than Christ to be the redeemer is more evident today than yesterday. We look to the government for redemption rather than justice; we look to the government for "welfare" (a horrible misuse of a wonderful word) rather than peace.

It is unbiblical and wrong for the government to act as redeemer or messiah of the people it serves. E
ven the person who could have pardoned him, Gov. Schwarzenegger, believed his dilemma was one of whether or not to believe Williams' redemption - not whether justice would be served. Think about that - the governor was setting himself up as the judge of men's hearts. This is the job of Christ the King, not Arnold the governor! So Gov. Schwarzenegger made the right decision, but ultimately by misguided reasoning.

Likewise, it is just as wrong for us to look to government - or any human institution - to give us what only Christ can. Not only will we be sorely disappointed when the best, most efficient government cannot reign in the evil of men's hearts, we do great dishonor to Christ when we make helpful institutions into idols.

25 comments:

Alicia said...

I completely agree.

With regard to Tookie, I heard on the radio (Quinn) that his books sold VERY few copies - like 2 copies for one of his books, and 8 for another.

And that comment, "Isn't that what prison is supposed to do?"

:: Sigh ::

jeff kessler said...

Jared:

This is the type of essay that you should consider getting on the opinion page of the J&C. It will probably be a hot topic for a week or so and a Christian perspective is sorely needed on this topic. Take it to a bigger audience my friend!!

The only attempt civil gov't should make at redemption is to make sure a gospel believing preacher visits the condemned the day before his execution. If he converts on his way to the chair, great, PTL, but he still needs to die.

Jeff K

Jared said...

Jeff - I took your advice and submitted this to the J&C. I polished it up a little and shortened it just a tad to get it under the 500 word mark. It'll be interesting to see if they print it.

Thanks for the counsel.

Kurt said...

My "aha" moment in the understanding of the difference between the roles and responsibilities of civil government vs. ecclesiastical (church) government, as well as civil government based on humanistic laws vs. civil government based on God's Laws came from reading a transcript of R.J. Rushdoony's 1960's radio address, "CAN WE LEGISLATE MORALITY?" Here is an excerpt that gets to the heart of the matter:

"[There is a]crucial difference between Biblical law and humanistic law. Laws grounded on the Bible do not attempt to save man or to usher in a brave new world, a great society, world peace, a poverty-free world, or any other such ideal. The purpose of Biblical law, and all laws grounded on a Biblical faith, is to punish and restrain evil, and to protect life and property, to provide justice for all people. It is not the purpose of the state and its law to change or reform men: this is a spiritual matter and a task for religion. Man can be changed only by the grace of God through the ministry of His word. Man cannot be changed by statist legislation; he cannot be legislated into a new character. The evil will or heart of a man can be restrained by law, in that a man can be afraid of the consequences of disobedience. We all slow down a bit on the freeway when we
see a patrol car, and we are always mindful of speed regulations. The fact of law and the strict enforcement of law are restraints upon man’s sinful inclinations. But, while a man can be restrained by strict law and order, he cannot be changed by law; he cannot be
saved by law. Man can only be saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ."

If anyone is interested in reading the whole transcript (only 3 pages), which I highly recommend, let me know and I will email it to you.

Tamara said...

I am sorry I must add this. True, Jared we should not look to the government to be our Redeemer. But, I will boldly profess our government is not our Judge either. In fact our judicial system is totally depraved. I ran across a great Proverb given by Jesus. “Physicians, heal yourselves.” How can our government use capitol punishment on a murderer? Our government allows a woman to terminate her unborn baby. We ourselves have sealed our fate as a nation. By hating our brother we have dictated that our punishment is death as well. If our governing laws truly reflect God's law then our own law requires us to die. Truly no one is safe from this needle injection. Do not think because this man was in a prison for a crime that he is any less worthy of mercy. Our government has a plank in its eye and it has only killed the man with the speck. Our justice system should technically have an execution day set for every person on planet earth. Thank God that Jesus is Judge. Can we recognize that we murdered Him. I hope that strikes fear.

Jared said...

Tamara - I appreciate the sentiment behind your statements, but I strongly disagree with them. Government is the judge of men's unlawful actions. This is the way God made it and the way it must be for society to keep its head above chaos. For a judge or governor to arbitrarily decide "mercy" for a convicted killer is also for him to decide "injustice" for the sinfully bereaved.

Are there problems in the judicial system? Obviously, yes; this redeemer mentality and legislated abortion are first on the list. But do we stop the Biblical process of justice until all the problems get worked out? That just won't happen this side of heaven. The sinfulness of a government does not negate its duty or responsibility to carry out whatever justice it is capable of. Scripture is abundantly clear on the role of government. To fail to carry out capital punishment is both to disobey a direct command of God and to dishonor Him by failing to do justice for those made in His image.

You are making the mistake of blurring the lines between what is unlawful and what is sinful; while what is unlawful is always sinful, what is sinful is not always unlawful. Yes, we all stand condemned before God; but we aren't all lawbreakers of men's laws. Men's laws don't/can't condemn hatred as a capital crime because it is beyond their purview. Although I do stand guilty before God of spiritual murder through hatred, I am not guilty of killing someone according to America's laws. This is an important, and Biblical difference: God deals with the heart and ordains government to participate in the work of restraining sinful men.

Alicia said...

Hi Tamara!! :-)

"Do not think because this man was in a prison for a crime that he is any less worthy of mercy."

He is worthy of mercy before whom? Government? Why? I don’t think so. I’m not worthy of mercy before government if I get a speeding ticket because God hasn’t said I am. By God’s command, I am subject to the ruling of the government. Before God, we are all sinners and all worthy of death. And before government, we are commanded to submit to the authority it has been granted by God. No one is deserving of mercy before God or government, and government certainly isn’t an executer of mercy. God has established government (as opposed to the church) to enforce laws and punish them and has given government authority (whether they use or abuse it...it's theirs.). Government is doing what God has commanded it to do by enforcing laws, and in this case, convicting and executing Tookie. No matter what kind of "turn around" he may have attempted to demonstrate, government was not built to grant forgiveness or mercy to people (redeemer mentality).

...our government is not our Judge either" Our judge for what? Eternal life? How our earthly life is spent? While I know we both don't believe govt is our judge for eternal life, I do believe that govt has the authority to judge my earthly life if I do something that is punishable by law (as Jared said). God has given the sword to the government to rule for good. Whilst it abuses that role at times, it also properly executes that role as well. Either way, God's decree for government still stands.

Hind's Feet said...

I find that what Kurt quoted was excellent. I have been arguing with someone for years why Christians are still answerable to the law. The claim was, "If God forgives me then why should I be held to face the legal system?"

I would dearly love to have a copy of the whole document which Kurt referred to. Thanks so much!
Blessings,
Kim (Josh J's mother)

Tamara said...

I think you misunderstand my post. When Tookie was killed he was not judged. He was put to death. When a government executes a man no judgement has been made. Death has no sting. Death is swallowed up in victory. God is the only Judge. If a judicial man says "Tookie, you have killed a man therefore you deserve to die." I would say Amen. If the government were to say, "Tamara you hate your fellow man you deserve to die." Again I would say Amen! If I hate my fellow man I am a murderer. Eye for an eye. But, the earthly judge can only condemn a man by the law. The law cannot save. It only brings death. But God has overcome death. So capital punishment is void of any true judgement. We are all appointed to die. Why should I submit to an earthly authority who truly has no authority over me? Am I not free? Jesus is the only king because He dictates a man's death and how it comes to pass. The earthly judge has no real power. If an earthly judge truly can't redeem a person neither can they judge a person. I think for God's kingdom to advance we must repent. The Israelites asked for a king despite the prophet saying it was not a good thing. I say my only king is Jesus and I plant my roots in His kingdom and relinquish all ties to this earth.

Kurt said...

Kim,

Email me at kfiech@hotmail.com, and I will send you a copy of the three page transcript via email.

Tamara said...

I am also reminded of this conversation. The teachers of the law said, "But didn't God say give her a certificate of divorce." Jesus reply was this...."That was because of the stubborness of your hearts." It is the same way with earthly government. He put it in place because His holy people wanted an earthly king in their rebellion. I choose to take another path.

Jeff Kessler said...

There was civil gov't in Israel before there were kings. Moses wrote about kingly conduct back in Deut. (chap. 17: 14-20) which seems to imply that it was assumed that someday Israel would have a king. I think a careful reading of the account when Saul was chosen was that the people wanted an earthly king INSTEAD of God. They would have been OK if they would have wanted an earthly king UNDER God and I think they jumped the gun...they wanted an earthly king quicker than they should have.

Civil gov't has no right under God to tell me anything about sins of the heart ie. whether or not I hate a man. It does, however, have the right and resposibility under God to punish those crimes/sins that God gives it the right to punish. And there is an element of judging involved, although not the ultimate or eternal judging that only God can do.

Alicia said...

Tamara, I think we're using words that have more than one meaning and application, such as judge. Tookie was judged when he was convicted of his crime. He wasn't judged for eternity, but he was still judged here on earth.

I agree that the law cannot save and that it can only condemn man by the law....that is exactly its purpose. An earthly judge does indeed have power, as given by God to enforce laws. It may not be the power you were thinking of (spiritual power), but is it power nonetheless authorized by God. An earthly judge most certainly judges, but again, not in a spiritual way. A judge administers judgments based on the law...there is not just one kind of "judging".

We should submit to the law because God has commanded us to submit to it. Death has no sting for believers, but for the unbeliever, death is a horrible thing for what it brings, whether or not one fears it.

In Jesus being your King, you are under His command, including the command contained in Romans 13: "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God" (v 1-2).

Tamara said...

What authority do I submit to then? If I truly should submit to every authority then I am a wretched, confused, and torn individual. My nation at its core is divided. Half the nation branded as democrate and the other branded republican. we even have the less popular parties. How can I submit to an authority that is built on a shifting rock. I know what you are saying Alicia. I REALLY do. But I think we need to investigate how Jesus would have read the law. The true judges of the earth are Christians on earth seated in heavenly places. I know the law says that this man must die. I also know that I myself am subject to this same law. How can we assume God has given man the authority to judge a crime when he himself is convicted. He has judged himself. I am not suggesting lawlessness. We need laws. But, where there is love (i.e. Christ) no law is needed. He should be the earthly judge just as much as the heavenly judge. I know I am being redundent. I do not wish to argue about this matter. I think every man will give account. I think your desire for justice is not wrong. I love this video and I think I am beginning to see a better picture of what it means to usher in the kingdom of God.
http://www.videocodezone.com/videos/c/casting_crowns/american_dream.html

Tamara said...

Hey, jared sorry for using your blog as a place for me to vent. i will be quiet now. :) Love you!

Alicia said...

My last comment :-) will be that God is a sovereign God. He does what pleases Him, and retains as much control over today's government as the government in place when Romans 13 was written. The fact that a lot of government is corrupt is not outside of His knowledge or sovereignty, and His commands are for all time. The only time we're to disobey government is if it's laws would cause us to disobey God.

Jared said...

Tamara, by saying that you will accept and submit to no other king but Christ, you are setting up a false dilemma, one which actually makes you more wordly, not less. Ultimately, our submission is due to Christ; but Christ, in His sovereignty, has commanded us to submit to earthly rulers (parents, elders, those in government). To say that you won't submit to earthly authorities because you're submitting only to Christ is to make yourself the lord of your life rather than Christ. Christians are to submit to government in all things, save when we are commanded to do something unbiblical; to refuse to do so is to dishonor Christ who put them there. You have constructed a way of thinking about this topic that does not take the clear commands of Scripture into account.

To put it another way, we truly love Christ not just by loving Him directly, but by loving others. Likewise, we submit to Christ by submitting to the authorities He's put in our lives.

Tamara said...

"Christians are to submit to government in all things, save when we are commanded to do something unbiblical; to refuse to do so is to dishonor Christ who put them there. You have constructed a way of thinking about this topic that does not take the clear commands of Scripture into account.

John 8:48-59

Jared said...

Tamara, I read over the passage you cited and am not sure what part you're referring to; I assume it's Jesus saying that there is One Judge. The context, though, clearly shows God to be the eternal, spiritual judge of all men (if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death). This passage must be taken in light of Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2:2, where we are commanded to pray for (and implicitly commanded to obey) our leaders that we may have peace.

Civil government is to reflect the judgments of Christ in her judgments; she does not have purview over men's hearts, but only outward actions.

Tamara said...

Reformed tradition....it is okay to submit to a bad government, but dispanding from an imperfect chuch is acceptable? (i.e. the reformation that broke away from the spiritual govenment at the time...catholism) I guess I think this is very hypocritical. We love our nation more than our brothers in Christ.

Jared said...

Tamara, your question has a complicated answer. There has never been and will never be (this side of heaven) a perfect government. Yet we are called to submit; so in one sense we are always submitting to bad government. Again, it is when the government calls us to do something unbiblical when we stop submitting.

To compare that to the Protestant Reformation is fascinating...because it sort of proves the point. It may have been wrong for the Protestants to break off had the church still been a church. But at the time of the Reformation, the Roman catholic church was only a church in name. It was corrupt beyond description, damned to hell far more than it saved, dishonored Christ by selling indulgences and superseding Scripture by the word of man, etc. To break away from such a "church" was not just proper, but the only right thing to do. So rather than being hypocritical, it lines up well with our view of government.

Sweet November said...

Hi! I'm a friend of Josh G.'s. He posted a link to your blog on his. I think one thing missing in this discussion of capital punishment is whether or not death is an appropriate punishment. Once the law (including the punishment for the crime) is in place, I agree that justice needs to be carried out according to the government's law but why is the punishment death and not life in prison. If the law mandated life in prison for murder then wouldn't justice still be served by carrying out that punishment? Why does it have to be death? True there is a biblical precedent but not a mandate, right?

Jared said...

You're right, I was assuming, for the sake of the post, that capital punishment is appropriate - on a human level, it's appropriate because it's the punishment that our government has set for taking a life. But Biblically, I believe there is a mandate in Genesis 9:6: Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His image.

The New Testament picks up on this in the discussion of the government's "sword" in Romans 13.

This actually gets us now into a new and interesting discussion. Most of the punishments our penal system doles out (usually some certain number of years in prison) is unbiblical and unfair. Biblically, punishments are something that can be given and done with in a short time. The robber just has to pay back double what he stole. The one who beats somebody up gets beat up himself. The one who takes a life gets his life taken. This whole "life in prison" thing is most inhumane and beastly.

Alicia said...

Inhumane, meaning that their crime didn't warrant a lifetime in prison? I haven't thought of it like that before, but I agree with you. It's interesting to consider what most Americans would say - they would be quick to assert that it's inhumane to punish in the way that you think is more humane and that a life in prison is being spared.

jeff kessler said...

Jared:

Your last reply is right on...you beter be careful, you are starting to sound a lot like Rushdooney or Bahnsen. :)

Jeff K