In light of what was covered in the last post, I realized that I no longer knew what to make of capital punishment. Now, before I go further, no…I have never had a loved one murdered, so I can’t put myself in the shoes of a victim’s family, and I’m not pretending that I can. But I also have never had a family member executed on death row, so I can’t pretend to know what occupying that position would be like, either. I feel like the same goes for most of us. Therefore, this discussion is speculative, and we must remember that while formulating our opinions.
Here’s what bothers me about the story of the woman caught in adultery. If there is anybody who has a right to pick up a rock and throw it at her, it is the one person who is in a position to judge: the blameless, perfect Almighty God incarnate in the body of Jesus Christ. God himself, who cannot be near sin.
And he won’t do it. He won’t do it.
To follow Christ is to exhibit grace and mercy. Yes, Jesus talked about judgment and Hell more than anybody else…because that’s his arena. He is the Alpha and the Omega; we are not. He is the permanent Being; we are not. I believe that when Christ said, “If you’re perfect, throw the first rock,” he is saying, “This is not your place; it’s mine. You are not in a position to make decisions like these.”
But we’ve put ourselves in those positions. Should government be allowed to end a person’s life? Or more importantly, should we be allowed to decide when a person’s soul ends? You may say, “Yeah, but that’s exactly what the murderer did to his victim. He didn’t have any right to do that.” Of course he didn’t, but by killing him in return, don’t we just perpetuate a vengeful cycle? One of my friends wrote an opinion article for my school’s newspaper and noted that the murderer has had his opportunity to come to Christ. In other words, he doesn’t deserve anymore time. I disagree; you can never give somebody too much time to make that choice. I am not one who enjoys the thought of giving up on people, even if they have committed some atrocity. I would like to think people wouldn’t give up on me…
You see, I believe that the mindset of “they had their chance” is no different than saying, “Lord, there’s nothing more You could possibly do with them. They’re not going to change.” But there’s an errancy contained in that statement. Saying it boxes up God with our emotion-based limitations. God has the power to change any person’s life. If we think someone is somehow beyond God’s reach of saving power and doesn’t deserve to live anymore, then our God is small. And another thing: when did we become so self-righteous to the point that we feel like we can say when a person is “beyond saving?” We who don’t know how to judge without condemnation—what makes us fit to slap that label on someone?
Keep in mind that you and I are capable of effecting genocide. You and I are capable of raping a child. You and I are capable of becoming the next serial killer who will be talked about for decades to come. If we are indignant at such a statement, then we fool ourselves on how intense our human nature is. No, we are not immune to it. Yes, we are just that bad. It connects all of us. I am no better than that man or woman on death row.
On the complete other end of the spectrum, though, is another universal: we are all children of God. Some of us posit the theory that “some people are just flat-out less human than others” but that’s wrong. Jeffery Dahmer, every participant in the Rwandan genocide, and the apostle Paul, killer of Christians before his conversion to Christ, are all children of God. By leaving the timetable for when a person dies in God’s hands, I can sleep at night knowing that God gave that person all the time he or she needed to make a decision, whereas if I were to put him or her on death row, I would wonder the rest of my life what could have been. Besides, does the death penalty really provide the relief, the catharsis, the healing someone needs? I’m skeptical it would eradicate the bonds of grief and torment that rage within an individual who has had a family member or dear friend murdered.
Am I saying that people should go unpunished? Of course not. Justice of some sort must be served, but here is how I see it, in light of Micah 6:8. First, acting justly means that there will be consequences for people’s actions and rightfully so. Second, there’s no better way to love (and exhibit) mercy than to learn from Christ’s example that we are not to assume a position of condemnation that puts others’ lives in our own hands (see John 8:1-11). Third, we are to walk humbly, which acknowledges that we are not somehow “better people” than the individuals who occupy death row and that God alone has the final say.
I do not pretend to have all the answers, and I’m still formulating my opinion on all of this. A book I appreciate is Dead Man Walking. You should give it a read. I’m also aware that some of you see this as a political issue, and for that very reason feel that religion shouldn’t help create our view on things like capital punishment. I tend to agree with that sentiment and feel like my line of thinking still follows it because I view the concept of “grace and truth” as a lifestyle, not just a religious maxim. Ergo, everything (for me) falls under its gaze, and capital punishment just happens to be one part of that “everything” that bothers me at this time.
I cherish your input and thoughtful opinions on issues like these.