A young sentry was on guard duty for the first time. His orders were not to admit any car unless it had a special identification seal. The first unmarked car the sentry encountered contained a general, who became frustrated with the young sentry and told the driver to go on through. The sentry politely replied, “Excuse me, sir, but I’m new at this. Who do I shoot first, you or the driver?”
More and more states are reintroducing capital punishment back into their laws. More and more appeals have failed resulting in more and more executions. We are troubled by executions but we are also distressed with crime. We turn to God’s word to find the answer. We want justice but as Christians we want to do the will of God. The answer we want is a simple yes or no, but the answer, just like many questions in life, is not black and white. To answer the question we must address three issues!
Firstly, has the government, the legal system, the right under God’s law to punish a person by execution? The simple answer is yes! God strictly forbid an individual to kill another human being. We know that the Sixth Commandment prohibited killing. But people kill people. One only has to read the Old Testament (whether we agree with it or not) to know that God allowed the King(s) to kill as a form of punishment.
GEN 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. Jesus appears to verify this authority when He says to the protective servant in the Garden, MAT 26:51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
Peter sums it up best when he writes to the Church, (1 Peter 2:13-14) Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. Just as the people of Israel punished the evil doers in Gibeah in Benjamin.
Secondly, if the legal system has the authority, then are there moral and ethical responsibilities? ROM 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. This means that our government and our laws must be fair. What this means is that while God has given permission to the government to take a life, it was to be done with justice. To pervert equity and deny justice, negates the right to execute human beings.
A justice system that is not color blind has no impartiality. A system that grants more liberty to the rich than to the poor has lost its justice. Justice is not for sale and the courts (which comprise you and me who make up the jury) must be fair. The moral and ethical mandate of scripture is to render justice, whatever the cost. To deny justice places the blood of the victim on our hands, not the governments.
Thirdly, as Christians, what are our responsibilities? Regardless of the outcome, we are to forgive. (Matthew 5:38-44) “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….. To the degree that we are willing to forgive, is to the degree that we ourselves will be forgiven.
But we have been done wrong! We understand the anger of the Levite and want justice for our wife. We won’t feel better until the whole nation comes and we have satisfaction. But that is not the New Testament way, the way of Christ. ROM 12:19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
The love of God demands the love of each other. The story is told of a rich man in Springfield, Illinois, who insisted that a certain poor man owed him $2.50. When the claim was denied, the rich man decided to sue him. He contacted a young lawyer named Lincoln, who at first hesitated to take the case. On second thought he agreed — if he’d be paid a fee of $10 cash in advance. The client readily produced the money, whereupon Lincoln went to the poor man and offered him $5 if he would immediately settle the alleged debt. Thus Lincoln received $5 for himself, the poor man got $2.50, and the claim was satisfied. The rich man foolishly paid three times the original debt, just to gain his rights.