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!"

20 December 2005

More on Capital Punishment

Not to beat a dead horse, but let's talk some more about capital punishment. Today in the local paper was a letter in response to my letter on why government must refuse the job of "messiah." Since the paper won't publish another letter from me in response, I'll respond here.

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!

7 comments:

Josh said...

Amen and Amen!!

Alicia said...

The argument from that responder is one I have heard many, many times. Your response was a very good one; more thoughtful than I have responded in the past to others.

You can see that even if she would support capital punishement, it wouldn't be for the same reasons. Like you said, it would be hinting at a redemptive purpose for government. So even though, in that scenario, she would seem to agree with you, she really doesn't because her basis for her belief is way off. Just one example of how forgotten God is to many people today.

"...because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." (Romans 1:21-25)

The "letter" to God you wrote was very intruiguing, and I think it captured a lot of the mentality of someone like this person.

"Any time you hear someone say that a part of Scripture was "replaced" by another, run." We should also run when someone starts out, "But Bible teachings aside...."

As an aside, I have considered several times in the past how very different we are from the world. See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. I John 3:1 There can be a number of subjects that non-Christians would agree with us on (abortion, capital punishment, divorce) at a surface level. However, our reasons for coming to certain conclusions is so radically different. Ours includes God and His purposes; theirs do not, and that is a severe variance. Thankfully, this agreement presents opportunity to communicate the basis for our beliefs to these people.

As for this woman.........if not in her lifetime, she will someday bow before the Lord.

Catherine said...

Good response, Jared. It's too bad the paper won't allow you a rebuttal. Maybe you could use a nom de plume or get a ghostwriter. Seriously. It's important for things like this to be discussed in public forums.

Kurt said...

Right on, Jared!

I wonder if she has really thought about why God had allowed His own Son to be put to death (even though innocent!). It would not fit into her humanistic thinking process, I'm afraid.

Tamara said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff Kessler said...

Jared:

I also say "amen" to your reply to the letter. Too bad you can't get it in the J/C

Assignment for some college student on break w/ alot of time on your hands:
If you agree w/ Jared's reply to this letter, put it in your own words and send it to the J&C. Make sure you let them know you are a college student...they love it when students write letters. Probably would be a good idea to run it by Jared before you send it.

There have been many harmful movements to the church in the last century or two. But among those who still believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, the dispensational distortions have to be the most serious.

I grew up in dispensational/anabaptists, circles, but now I do all I can, by God's grace, to expose the errors.

Jeff Kessler

Ellen Olivetti said...

Jared:

This is such a well thought-out response. Too bad the paper wouldn't print this. Really very well said.

Recently, I have been witnessing to two people who have, like so many, developed their own view of who God is and who God should be allowed to be. The very thought that we can decide what God wants, what He says is true and what justice entails is so presumptive on our part. Apart from Christ, people can only deal with the God they create in their own minds.

I just keep thinking that, no matter what they think, the truth is still the truth. And, when Christ comes again, in power and great glory, it will be too late for many to realize the foolishness of their ways.

Thanks for reminding us that, no matter what the world and the US government think, God is still God and His truth will stand!