First, here's the responding letter:
Using religion to justify state killing
I never cease to be amazed at how easy it is for some people to use (and misuse) religion to justify their political biases. The author of a Dec. 16 letter, "Redemption not in the job description," came close to saying that if America doesn't execute its capital offenders, it is somehow dishonoring God.
If the writer is Christian, it would seem that he might have concentrated his Bible studies in the first five books of the Old Testament -- the so-called "Books of Law" -- and that he altogether skipped the New Testament, where biblical law was replaced by Jesus' teachings of grace and forgiveness.
But Bible teachings aside, I, like many other Americans (Christians and non-Christians alike), reject capital punishment based solely on innate human values and common sense.
Consider the following questions: How does a society teach that killing is immoral by killing its killers? Why is the United States the last industrialized country on earth to ban capital punishment ("godless Russia" included)? Why do so many people talk about "justice" when they really mean "revenge"? Why do some persons believe that executions offer more protection to society than "life without the chance of parole"?
Perhaps it's true that some people are so evil that they don't deserve to live. But I, like so many others, am against state-sanctioned killing not because I feel sympathy for the offenders, but because I want our country to stand for higher and nobler ideals.
Sigh. I suspect any religiously-tinged letter should expect to find some party calling it biased by political positions. Oh well, I can't deny that I am biased; I can only hope my biases come from Scripture and emanate toward the world around me rather than the other way around.
Apparently, I came close to saying that if the government doesn't kill capital offenders, it dishonors God. Well then, I didn't go far enough, so let me state plainly: Any government that refuses to kill capital offenders dishonors God. Genesis 9:6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (There I go using those darn "books of the Law" again.) God Himself says this is the way it works: if a man murders another and the murderer's life is not taken, then an affront has been made upon the King of Heaven Himself, because justice (which God alone gets to define) has not been accomplished on behalf of the precious life made in His image.
Next up, the dangers of dispensationalism. Having no insight into the religion of the letter's writer, I can only comment that her note on Scripture is what any good dispensationalist would say, and a perfect example of how they cut the heart out of Scripture. To say that the Old Testament law has been replaced by Jesus' teaching on grace and forgiveness is so outlandish that it's hard to know where to begin. How about with Jesus' own words: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Mt. 5:17) The New Testament is full of harsh, law-type language and the Old Testament has plenty of forgiveness and grace (Micah 7:19 - He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.) Any time you hear someone say that a part of Scripture was "replaced" by another, run. Not only are they wrong, but they're so wrong that it might be contagious.
Following her disappointing Scriptural explanation, the author rejects capital punishment based on (1) innate human values and (2) common sense. God will be so glad to get that memo. Um, God? Yeah, we know Scripture says stuff about the government's sword (and isn't that in the books of the law? It's not? Oh well) but we all decided that it's best to do away with all this killing stuff. Why? Well, because it seems to all of us to be wrong and it doesn't make much sense. What's that? Yeah, I suppose such an attitude does mean we don't care what you think and that we've become our own gods. But we're pretty sure we can handle it from here on out. Thanks for the help, though.
Let's now take up the author's charge and consider her questions. How does a society teach that killing is immoral by killing its killers? Two ways: believe the truth of Scripture and teach it to our children. Not only will we understand the punishment for the crime, but we'll understand the why. The current American confusion around the topic stems from one thing: not understanding and believing what God has spoken. Second, we need to advance our semantic ability beyond first grade, and do it by how the Bible speaks. When a man kills a man in anger or rebellion or covetousness, it is murder. When a government exacts the proper punishment, it is killing, but it's not murdering. So, a murderer kills but when the government kills the murderer, it isn't murdering (because it's commanded by God and motivated by a desire for justice and His glory).
Why is the U.S. the last industrialized nation to forego capital punishment? I can only surmise that it is a remnant of the Biblical foundation of many of our nation's laws. Almost magically, the mind can go two ways here: either we still have capital punishment because we're way behind Russia, et al, in terms of social progress. Or, Russia, et al, have rejected capital punishment because of their much quicker descent into secular humanism. Hmm.
Why do so many people speak of justice when they mean revenge? I don't know about the others, but I spoke of justice rather than revenge because I meant justice rather than revenge. Scripture is clear: when I am offended (even so great an offense as a loved one's murder), it is not my right to take revenge; "vengeance is mine" God said. How does He pursue vengeance? First, through the courts and punishments of just governments. Second, through the eteral justice of God, met either at the cross or in hell. Having said that, though, part of Scriptural justice is revenge on behalf of the widowed and dispossesed. Should you murder my loved one, I have a right, not to kill you myself, but to see your life taken.
Why do some people believe that executions offer more protection than life without parole? I honestly don't know. Logically, if "life without parole" really means just that, then our protection from the murderer would be the same either way. But that's not why we do capital punishment; protection's merely one of the benefits. When our only foundation for capital punishment is mere protection, then justice is only minutes from being swept out the door.
Finally, she does admit that (maybe) some people are so evil they deserve to die. Finally, the humanistic punchline. Now we get back to my original letter; it's when we begin speaking about the evil or the righteousness in the hearts of the convicted that government has dangerously superseded her heavenly charge. Capital punishment is not a matter of the heart's redemption or persistent wickedness. It's a matter of what was done, in the real world, and how the wrong will be made right. Regardless of whether or not God's plan for justice makes sense to me or you or anyone else simply will not, cannot change the eternal standard of justice. We can jump off buildings and pretend gravity doesn't exist, but the ground might convince us otherwise. We can reject capital punishment by pretending the reasoning of men is much better than God's, but reality will, one day, convince us otherwise.
p.s. - I can't pass up an opportunity to point out that all of us are so wicked that we deserve to die. How great is the love of God who, for His glory and and love for the church, spared some from eternal capital punishment by the substitutionary death of Jesus!