Friday, September 23, 2011

Capital Punishment & The Kingdom of God

Before reading this blog, please know that I am approaching this topic from a Christian perspective.  I am purposely choosing not to address this as a social issue, and not from our government's perspective on the death penalty.  My thoughts and opinions fall into the realm of the Kingdom of God and what I believe Jesus had in mind for what that Kingdom would look like.  I feel that this approach must be taken because this is an area in which we are not comparing apples to apples when choosing our stance.  If we claim to be followers of Christ, the choice must be made to follow His teachings and His alone.  To be honest, the secular opinion of American society is irrelevant in this situation.         
Over the last few days, there's been a lot of talk about the death penalty.  With the execution of Troy Davis in the state of Georgia, the discussion has crept up again and needless to say, opinions are very strong on this issue.  For the purpose of this blog, I will not get into the details, but in the case of Davis, evidence proves that it is very possible that he was innocent and that at the very least, the execution should have been delayed in order to re-examine the case and determine if these claims were warranted.  In my personal opinion, there is a very good chance that an innocent man was killed.  You can read the details of Troy Davis at your leisure on any of the popular news websites of your choice. 

The reason that I choose not to get into the details of Davis' case is because they are not the real issue of what we are witnessing in this situation.  Putting opinions aside of this specific case, and dismissing the fact that an innocent man may have been killed, it's imperative that we ask ourselves the question, "Should the death penalty be accepted as morally acceptable within the Christian Church?"  Whether a man is 100% innocent, or guilty of the worst atrocities that one can imagine, is it acceptable to thoughtfully consider a person's crimes and offenses by a judge and jury and make the premeditated decision to kill another human being because of the sins they have committed?  Again, I am approaching this from a Christian perspective, believing that the "murder" of another human being is a sin.  Murder in this case being considered a premeditated killing of another person that does not fall into the case of innocent accident, self-defense or government sanctioned war, in which the soldiers are doing their job commanded by the US military.  Although the instance of war could be argued from a Kingdom perspective, I'm not naive enough to believe that war can be avoided.  I am not a pacifist, but I definitely do not celebrate war, nor do I think that it should be encouraged as something good and valued from a Christian perspective.  But I'll leave that issue for another blog.        

At this point, you are probably wondering what my opinion is on the death penalty, so let me cut to the chase.  I am 100% against capital punishment.  As I stated before, I am choosing to look at this issue from a Christian perspective; not socially.  I choose to look at life from God's perspective, thus seeing all life as sacred, regardless of the horrendous acts that many people chose to commit.  Does this mean that the man, Jake Kampe, does not believe that some people are worthy of death?  No.  Does this mean that my human nature would not want to see the death and even suffering of those that kill the innocent, those that molest children and rape woman?  Does my opinion of the death penalty mean that somewhere in the dark recesses of my soul, I would resist pulling the trigger of a gun pointed at the head of someone who killed someone that I love?  My wife or one of my boys?  Let me just say that that is an area that I don't even like to think about.  The "man" is capable of much more outside the realms of God's Kingdom.  Which is why I chose to retreat within His borders.

Yes, there is violent imagery in the Old Testament and the death penalty was condoned by Mosaic Law.  But it's important to consider a few issues before we use these illustrations as a justification for capital punishment in today's society.  First of all, as a good friend of mine reminded me of today, two reputable witnesses had to be presented that both witnessed the crime deserving of death.  How often do we have one solid witness at our disposal during a trial, let alone two?  The death penalty was taken very serious in Old Testament Israel.  Which leads to the second issue: "why" was the death penalty condoned in the first place?

It's important to know what was going on in Old Testament times in terms of the Nation of Israel.  This nation was selected as God's chosen people.  These were the people that would bring God's redemptive message to the world.  These people bore the message that would eventually pave the way for Messiah, redemption and all things being made new.  A great change would eventually happen to the world and the people of Israel were the instruments that God chose to use.  Therefore, it was imperative that God protect His people regardless of the cost.  As with the seemingly ridiculous laws found in Leviticus, the death penalty was another example of the extremes God had to go through to make sure Israel survived, persevered and was protected, even from themselves.

While capital punishment may have been necessary in Old Testament times, with the coming of Christ, He in fact made "all things new".  The world had been redeemed through Him and His eventual death of the cross and His resurrection.  Jesus came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, which He did in completion and perfection on the cross.  The Kingdom of God had been inaugurated and Christ's ministry began a way of looking at the world from a radically different perspective.  The Kingdom of God is about everything that will eventually be realized.  It's not complete, but our job as the Church is to reveal it in as much completion as humanly possible, even if it makes no sense to society.  Standing against the death penalty is one of those instances.

As followers of Christ, we face a constant tension of duality.  What might be acceptable by societies standards, may not be within a Kingdom perspective.  Like I said, I may stand against war with God's Kingdom, but understand that war is an unfortunate reality in our world.  By standing against capital punishment, we are showing the world what Christ stood for in it's essence.  We show the world that we are willing to love our enemies, even when all logical reason tells us otherwise.  It shows the world that we are willing to turn the other cheek, even when our other is bloodied.  It shows the world that we are willing to lay down our sword, even when we are 100% justified in wielding it.  It shows the world a Kingdom that chooses life, not death and that it's continuing cycle will not redeem mankind.

When Jesus was confronted with the woman found guilty of adultery in John 8, he had every right to allow her to be killed.  According to Mosaic law, a woman found guilty of committing adultery could be legally stoned to death.  Jesus could have easily forgiven her of her sins, promised her eternity in paradise and given his approval for the stones to begin flying.  Instead, Jesus asks all of us to examine our own lives, drop our stones and ask a very simple question.  If the wages of sin are death, then why am I still alive?                   

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