Everybody Wants to Kill Somebody: Part 3 Capital Pumishment

This link is to the entire document, Everybody Wants to Kill Somebody: An Epistle for Killers Everybody wants to Kill (1)

Capital Punishment: Does God desire the death of a sinner?

We have already mentioned that in the case of abortion and suicide (as well as martyrdom and heroic death) that any taking of a human life is displeasing to God, breaks Shalom, is contrary to a life of holiness, and is harmful to one’s soul. Yet, the same God who has commanded, “Thou shalt not kill,” has also given his clear consent to the taking of human life for certain grievous crimes. Proponents for the death penalty do us no good service when they deny the first. Advocates for the sanctity of human life do us no good service when they deny the second.  Too often we try to resolve the issue in our  favor by playing with the overly nuanced definition of terms thereby, using many words, we complicate and confuse the issue rather than clarify it. Another tactic, which the Christian ought to shun, is to reach for an obscure and difficult to understand passage and then, rather than admit that we don’t understand it, impose a meaning upon it which the Holy Spirit never intended.

The Christian must approach the moral conundrum of capital punishment with an acceptance that God has warned us that the taking of a human life is displeasing to God and does harm to our soul while simultaneously giving Divine consent to do just that. God gives consent and command for many things, but the reason that motivates us and the means by which we participate are important. It is, then, most advisable for the Christian to answer a hard question.  Is it necessary (has God set before us in the instance any other remedy)? To answer the question, “Is this necessary?” we must first answer the question, “Necessary for what purpose?”

Is it necessary to satisfy the need of the community and surviving victims for a sense of retributive justice? Even if so, that is one reason for capital punishment which we are specifically denied. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.” “Do not say, “’I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and He will avenge you.” The one reason for which we are most passionately desirous for employing the death penalty is also one which God is most emphatic about denying us. We may not kill for retribution.

Is it necessary to deter others from following their example? Laying aside the argument as to how effective that would be[1] this is also a purpose from which we are explicitly restrained. We may not impose a penalty on one person for the sins (real or potential) of another, “instead each will die for his own iniquity.” If such a reason for employing the death penalty is ever affirmed, then the church will find itself in a strange new world. If it is necessary to take a person’s life to deter others from killing the body, then how much greater is the need to deter those who kill not the body but set traps that deliver souls to eternal death? The heretic, the blasphemer, the false prophet, the prosperity Gospel preachers, they need to be first in line before the guillotine. The church has visited this issue and long since determined that God has not consented to the taking of one human life for the purpose of deterring another from following their example.[2]

The only discernable reason which God has left us for the implementation of capital punishment is to protect the community from a (nearly) irredeemable person. We should take note that neither the Levitical Code nor the Deuteronomic Law make any provision for a sentence of five to ten years in a maximum security prison for any offense. A nomadic people have not the means of establishing a prison system. Their laws can provide for a period of servitude as restitution for an offense, but they have no means by which they can isolate a dangerous person in their midst, and banishment can only be enforced after the offender has returned and committed another crime.  There are undoubtedly times and places where capital punishment is/was the only option available. The word of God is as valid on this point today as it was in the beginning.

If Scripture can be a reliable guide, then when capital punishment is necessary it is to be executed swiftly and publicly. It is done publicly not for the purpose of spectacle or grotesque entertainment (as the secularist and pagans will no doubt make of it) but so that the community understands that we are participants in and beneficiaries of the taking of  a human life. A person’s soul is being returned to God for judgment, and it is happening at our behest. It is appropriate that this moves us to shock, grief, and repentance.

The Christian approaches the death penalty not as one demanding a right but as one who, having failed to find any alternative that is faithful to the word of God and our responsibility to our neighbor, is obligated to avail ourselves of an option to which God has consented in this most grievous and extraordinary of circumstances.

It is fair at this point for the reader to put to this author a personal question: “Imagine a report of the most heinous sadistic murder of a mother and her children. Imagine also that it is your wife and your children. What would you want to see done with the perpetrator then?” It is a fair question which I am will answer honestly.

I would want to do things to that Son of Beelzebub that are even more horrific than that which he did to my family, and if given the opportunity I probably would. That is why I agree—in advance of such a crime, while I still have my sanity—that you (society) are not to let me near that person. I expect that you will apprehend them before I can, that you will then place them somewhere where I cannot get to them, and that you will not permit me to be either judge or juror. I agree to this not out of concern for the well-being of the perpetrator but for the well-being of my own soul. I do not want to become the person that I likely would become if I were allowed to accomplish that which I would undoubtedly desire.

I conclude as in the previous sections:  Any killing, even a just[3] one, is a manifestation of sin which does us harm. We are left unclean and in need of redemption.

[1] Our perception of how effective a course may be is not cause for laying aside an instruction from God. It may be that it serves a purpose beyond our ability to comprehend. If God ordains, then we are committed.

[2] Contrary to popular belief, the Church has never imposed a death penalty. The Church would conduct the trial as to the validity of the charge of heresy, but civil authorities would determine and execute the sentence. Clergy have always been prohibited from shedding blood. There were in the past as there are now certain clerics and bishops of dubious morals who colluded with civil authorities to pervert justice for their own ungodly purposes.

[3] I am reluctant to us the term justified in relation to killing. Justification has a special significance for the Christian people. It denotes being without guilt and implies holiness. I have found no act of killing that can be described as an act of holiness or leaves us completely free of guilt.

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