Is the death penalty "Christian"?
In our Bible study today, a friend asked how I feel about the death penalty.
That's not so easy to answer and still stay within the will of God. Like some feel, it is easy to say, "Yes! When someone commits murder, he or she deserves to be shot on the spot!" Others remember the passage in Romans 12:17-19:
17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
and say that we should never use the death penalty, regardless of the crime. This passage seems to support the pacifist side of the issue.
A matter of opinion?
However, realistically, what do we do with the "Bonnie and Clyde" mentally disturbed people on a killing spree, or the self-proclaimed terrorists who are "killing the infidels for Allah and the 72 virgins"? Do we just let them go on killing and let the Lord take care of them later? If we can't capture them without incident, do we let them go on killing innocents who have never had the chance to meet Christ? In this light, how do we make sense of the statements in Romans 12 above?
Not a chance. The answer is right there
This is the basis of a lot of heated discussions, but the answer is in the second half of verse 17
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
. This advice from Paul seems to be directed to the individual, not to society in general. Confirming this thought is the beginning of the very next chapter in Romans 13:1-7:
1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
This seems to be saying that there is an authority in place for society whose job it is to protect the people from exactly this kind of wrongdoer. These are the ones who are to enact the correct punishment for the particular crime. Those punishments are outlined in various places of the Old Testament (Genesis 9:6
6Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.
12"Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate."
16Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper's possession.
10" 'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife - with the wife of his neighbor - both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.' "
"But, that's Old Testament..."
Of course, some of these have become so common that we no longer follow God's commands about them (imagine that). Like the ones about kidnapping and adultery. The worst punishment doled out lately is a slap on the wrist - if even that. Another problem is that many people will point to Jesus' comment to the Pharisees regarding the adulterous woman and claiming that we are not to judge. Note, however, they did not take the woman to the authorities and they didn't even bother bringing in the man she was with. Jesus words were confirming of Paul's later words that that decision is to be left up to God's servants - the authorities - not some busybodies trying to prove a point with Jesus. Our personal individual unworthiness to decide on someone's death does not remove the need for the punishment from society as a whole.
The softening of society
Something else that came up in this Bible study was the popularity of "justice" or "revenge" movies. Two of my favorites that demonstrate punishment problems with modern society are The Punisher and Shooter. In both of these movies, very blatant acts of murder are perpetrated on innocent people and then "justified" by those who committed them by claiming the crimes were outside the country or that they were just "making things right" or "brought stability to the region".
How far do we back off?
The only problem with both of these movies, from the "Christian" point of view is that one individual took revenge, evidently against the advice of Paul in Romans 12:17-19. However, Paul said in the next chapter to leave the punishment up to the authorities who were supposed to represent God in getting justice. What do you do when the authorities refuse to act and the perpetrators continue to commit the crimes? In fact, if the authorities try to invoke the commands of God for their actions, they will likely be voted out of office for "combining religion and politics".
Stand for something...
I am not advocating personal vengeance here. Just pointing out that our society has gone so far away from the order and will of God that we no longer feel the need to hold our government responsible to follow God. In fact, much of society has turned so far away from Him that murder and rape are really the only crimes in society requiring punishment. How far should we let it go before the rest of us stand up for God?
Remember, there are only two outcomes to this life, and one of them is the ultimate death penalty. To take a little liberty and reverse paraphrase Jesus, "...and few will avoid it."
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