Sunday, October 28, 2012

Capital Punishment. Why I've Changed My Mind

I know what the Bible says about putting to death those who would lie in wait to kill another person. And I don't know any reason why that instruction isn't valid, yet today. But I've noticed something in the last year or so that has changed my personal opinion .. my personal preference .. as respects capital punishment.

I don't think our justice system, with all its safeguards and procedures that are built into it, is equipped to handle it. The problem isn't with capital punishment .. it's with our system.

And I don't think it can be fixed.

I read an article today about a man out West who'd given up his appeals and said he deserves death, for the murder of a young girl that he killed 22 years ago. Now, I don't argue with the punishment, but I think the man is in his early 40's now, whereas he was in his early 20's when he committed the crime. Therein lies the problem.

We hardly ever execute the same person that committed the crime. Aside from legal technicalities that might have arisen in the original trial, there's nothing in the criminal's life that can be taken into account in modifying the original sentence (as I understand it), once it's pronounced. There's no chance for redemption.

Think about it a minute. Think about God operating on that basis. Your first sin earns you the death sentence. Then along comes John 3, that says you're condemned already without Jesus. Since most of us don't get saved until after we've already committed that first sin, and received the death sentence, redemption for the Christian must necessarily come after the crime, so to speak. I'm glad God made provision for us, for our redemption, but the law makes no such provision.

God can rehabilitate us, but just as the Old Testament Law had the same shortcoming, our laws today cannot rehabilitate us when it comes to capital crimes.

Since we don't have any omniscient humans around, we cannot really know whether such criminals on death row have had genuine conversion experiences. But just last week I saw a man already serving life for a killing .. gang-related .. confess to 27 additional murders in California. He was a broken man. If I've ever seen a man under conviction, it was him, so I have no doubt the Holy Ghost was working on him. I'd seen the show previously and had made an attempt to locate someone to go witness to him .. to no avail (within my knowledge) .. but one thing I know: that wasn't the same man, sitting there, that had killed those people.

I also recall seeing Karla Faye Tucker weep for the others in prison that she'd not be able to reach for Christ, in light of her forthcoming execution. She even moved me to tears, myself.

I know of  no humanly-possible way that man could ever assemble a system to discern when people had been "rehabilitated" after committing a capital crime, or a way of assessing whether we were truly executing the same person who had wantonly taken the life of another. I think it's a camel/needle deal: impossible for man to accomplish.

For God? Doable. For man? Not.

In view of what I've seen in the last couple of years, I admit I'm troubled by capital punishment, now. Yes, the Bible says  it. So I must defer to the Bible. And maybe it's like the first execution after the Supreme Court lifted the moratorium on capital punishment, in 1976. I woke up in a hotel that morning, hearing that Gary Gilmore had been executed by firing squad, and I recall a profound sense of sorrow. And it surprised me. I finally concluded that, perhaps, that was the proper reaction. Necessary, but sad.

Over the past year or two, all I can say is that it's gotten sadder. And I have to wonder if God has a better way.

If He does, I sure hope He shows me. I don't like uncertainty on something like this....

2 Comments:

At 7:35 PM, October 28, 2012, Anonymous Chiclet said...

I don't know how anyone could condone or support capital punishment. I can't see for one moment how the taking of any life can be justified, not even if that person was a serial killer or murdered my child or my granny or whomever. And no, nobody in my family has been murdered, so I don't "know what it's like", but I do value the life in life, even that of the murderer because I believe that everyone should have the opportunity for redemption. Everyone. Even those who never seek forgiveness. I'm not saying they should have the same freedoms as the rest of us, either. Lock them up and do your utmost to educate and rehabilitate them while they're doing their time (which might be the term of their natural life).

I can't recall ever hearing Jesus say "enough is enough, put the bastard to death" or words to that effect. Now, I suspect a great number of murders occur because of mental health, or mental deficiency, or ignorance, or social problems, or opportunistic irrationality - and these fall within the realm of responsibility of a civilized society. WE are responsible for not helping, not educating, not lifting up our brothers out of their social hells, not treating mental health, poverty, disadvantage, and not upholding the ultimate truth that we should be about peace, equality, and love. Heck, we can't even provide adequate health care for the poorest people in our own country.


I don't know how anyone anywhere can say words to the effect of "because I love the word of God, and truly try to live as Jesus would, I now condemn you to death by electrocution (or other horrible means)". I can't see that Jesus would ever do that. If I can't see Jesus condemning a man to an unnatural death for a sin that is equal (if more shocking) to others, then I can't see there's any justification for it.

On the other hand, I can see Jesus gently suggesting that perhaps I could do more to serve and help in the spiritually, financially, educationally and socially impoverished communities that so often are the source for those who perpetrate [violent] crime. Really, like most people, I do so little to help others. I believe that makes me something of a failure at adding life and Life in Christ where it's most needed.

My reality is that I have denied life by doing nothing! I never used to be against the death penalty, but these days, the whole idea sickens me. I could do more to help...

 
At 8:11 PM, October 28, 2012, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Jesus was silent as to the "death penalty" .. I suppose the closest He came was when He ran off all the accusers who brought to Him the woman caught in the act of adultery. That was, at the time, punishable by stoning to death, per the Mosaic law.

It's interesting they didn't bring Him the guy, however....

My default position was, as I stated, in favor of it, since the Bible did prescribe it in the Old Testament, and the New Testament did not negate it. In fact, Jesus said not on "jot nor tittle..." would pass away, but then that gets all wrapped up in repentance, forgiveness, and a whole theological discourse follows (which wasn't my intent here).

I do appreciate your reading and your comment, and also admire your correct usage of the word "whomever". Well done!

 

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