Conservatives demand it as necessary; liberals protest it as unloving. But what, we might wonder, does God think about capital punishment?
The death penalty was common under the Mosaic Law, but the Law doesn’t accurately reflect God’s heart. Furthermore, to my knowledge, the issue is never seriously addressed in the New Testament.
In Genesis 9, we find a short passage—predating the Mosaic Law—that provides us with a helpful perspective:
“Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.”
The Creator of the Universe so values a human life that He instituted the penalty of capital punishment at a point early in our human existence.
This passage seems to provide excellent support for the conservative position, but there is more to the story.
Not only is God just in every way, shape, and form, He detests injustice. And the problem with capital punishment is that it’s often unjustly implemented.
How many stories have we heard in which people have been unjustly convicted of crimes they did not commit? All too often, “justice” is more about money, connections, and race than anything else.
Convicts’ rights should never trump those of the victims, but those unjustly convicted are victims too. Just recently, our local newspaper ran the story of a man who was released from prison after 34 years because of DNA evidence. If you think cases like this are extremely rare and isolated, check out the website for the Innocence Project.
If the judicial system worked as intended, I could accept the death penalty as an appropriate punishment in some cases. However, I find it increasingly difficult to trust a judicial system in a society that is becoming less and less trustworthy.
One fact should be clear, however. When properly meted out, judicial judgment is necessary. A world without justice will be overrun by corruption and chaos.
Similarly, the idea that heavenly wrath conflicts with divine love is unfounded. Real love, in fact, demands justice.
The often-missing link in our perspective is the cross of Jesus Christ. Through the cross, God poured out His wrath on sin so that the guilty might by spiritually absolved of their crimes.
God doesn’t forgive us as humans simply because He loves us. He forgives us because we, by faith, appropriate Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.
It is love that sent Jesus to the cross, justice that kept Him there, and faith that declares us to be innocent in the eyes of Heaven.
Thankfully for us, justice and redemption need not be mutually exclusive.
What comfort we find in knowing that justice and redemption are better accomplished by the kingdom of God than by any earthly government ever to exist!