Consider, if you will, the act of murder – is there a more wretched act? On human terms you are depriving someone of their most precious possession: their life. Never again will that person laugh, love, smile or cry. Then consider the effect of family and friends of having to cope with the loss of a loved one and then consider more the effect on society of another act of brutality – the frowns upon hearing the news, the grief at such a tragedy. And as Christians we know that the act of murder is even worse than that. It is a deliberate act of rebellion against the fact that life is one of God’s greatest gifts to all mankind. And worse still, we know that murder sends an immortal soul into eternity. Murder then is the vilest of acts, but has the Bible to say about it?
We all know that in the Old Testament, God commands that murderers were put to death (Exodus Chapter 21). But that was 3000 odd years ago, what should a ‘modern’ Christian’s view be on murder in relation to himself as an individual and through the process of law and order?
When you read about a murder in the paper how do you feel? Pity, I imagine, pity for the relatives left behind who have to pick up the pieces. And, if you’re like me, you might also feel angry at the low life scumbags who could carry out such a horrific act. What is that anger? Nothing more than the righteous anger God feels against all sin. We are, after all, made in the image of God. What God can feel, we can feel, to a limited extent. So then, this righteous anger is not an act of sin but rather a blessing, a sign that our wills are closely aligned with God and that the act of murder is a terrible crime.
However, this anger should never lead to a desire for vengeance, vigilante killing or revenge of any sort. We have Jesus’ commands in the New Testament that I’m sure you can quote better than me:
“You have heard it said: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you do not resist an evil person.”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5 v 44).”
“Do not judge or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7 v 1)
You probably also remember the story about Jesus and the adulteress where Jesus says:
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8 v 7)
So, we see that as individual Christians we are called to forgive the sins of others: even murder. Therefore if one of our loved ones is murdered we must try and forgive the murder. Difficult, yes, but necessary as Christians.
With you so far, but what about the government and the law?
The biggest mistake Christians make is applying the commands Jesus gave to us as individuals to the course of law and order as well. Take the command: love your neighbour as yourself. If you apply this to the law who then would ever be punished? Obviously this can’t stand. Or the one: “do not judge or you too will be judged”. Again if you apply this to the government then the law cannot do anything and that can’t be what Jesus is commanding. We must make the distinction between commands for individuals and commands for authority (governments). The two are completely different! I cannot stress this enough. Therefore the law can take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth because the commands for the individual do not apply to the justice system.
What then are the New Testaments commands concerning the punishment of murder?
The same as the Old Testament. As Paul says in Romans 13 v 3 -4:
“For 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 he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Emphasis added)
There is a lot of teaching in here. First is that God appoints all rulers and authorities and gives them power to uphold justice. This is good; justice needs to be upheld for society to function. Secondly rulers are commanded to bear the sword against evil. Sword of course meaning the power of death. Thirdly the ruler is God’s servant! “An agent of wrath” – God’s righteous anger burns against all sin and he commands governments to carry out his wrath for certain sins. Murder is definitely one. Christians as individuals have to rely on the authorities to punish murder. Governments have been granted the power of justice and vengeance.
Vengeance is wrong.
“Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord”
Romans 12 v 19
Vengeance is right for God but wrong for us – individually! And God carries out his vengeance using governments as his instruments.
But Jesus would never have supported the death penalty!
Well, Jesus says in Matthew 15 v 3 - 4 (or Mark 7 v 8 – 11)
“Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said: “Honour your father and your mother” and “Anyone who curses his father and mother must be put to death.”
So you see Jesus had no problem with the death penalty and by saying the above shows that the death penalty is God’s command. And let’s go to Paul – Paul followed Christ – if Christ opposed the Death Penalty so would Paul. Yet in Act 25 v 11 Paul says:
“If however I am guilty of doing anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die.”
Paul would have accepted the death penalty if he had deserved it.
Still not with you…
When Jesus was on the cross did he say anything about the wrongness of the death penalty? Nope. And the thief that repents says:
“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.”
Luke 23 v 41
And Jesus does not contradict him as I’m sure he would have had Jesus been against the death penalty. It should be mentioned that the thief would be guilty of far more than just stealing to merit crucifixion.
Jesus saved an adulterous woman from being stoned. Therefore he is against the death penalty.
Well no, because firstly there were not two witnesses as called for in Mosaic Law. Secondly the man should have been stoned as well but he wasn’t there. Thirdly the “he who is without sin” line does not apply to governments. Also the death penalty should have been given by a court of law not a mob. So Jesus followed the protocol of the law and let the woman go.
Only God can take a life!
Yet in the Old Testament case law He delegated this power to the justice system. In the New Testament Paul makes it clear that this delegation of power still stands. It is perfectly permissible for the justice system to take a life in the right situation.
But the Old Testament civil law was overthrown!
“Whoever sheds the blood of man
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
Has God made man.”
Genesis 9 v 5
Here we have a command from God that murder must be punished through the death penalty. Notice that this is outside of Old Testament case law and therefore not ‘undone’ by Jesus’ death on the cross. The death penalty was so important as to be given before the civil law; before the Israelites even existed! Never has this command been overthrown. Never. This command also overrides the one God laid down after Cain killed Able about not shedding Cain’s blood.
Second, was the moral and civil law of the Old Testament really overthrown? (The ceremonial law definitely was).
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5 v 17-19
God’s law still stands. Murder requires the death penalty. And again in Romans:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God...”
“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
Romans 3 v 19, 31
The Death Penalty is first spoken of in Genesis, re-affirmed in Mosaic Law, re-affirmed again by Jesus, re-affirmed again again by Paul on several occasions and finally re-affirmed last of all in the book of Revelation. The Bible is of one accord: the punishment for murder is death.
But isn’t the death penalty just like murder?
Then putting someone in prison would be just like kidnap. Also God says in the Ten Commandments:
“You shall not kill.”
Exodus 20 v 13
And then in the next chapter God commands:
"He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.”
Exodus 21 v12
So there is no contradiction in God’s eyes between the command not to kill and the death penalty.
What if mistakes are made?
The world we live in is imperfect, mistakes will always be made. We must trust in God, who is in control of everything. We must trust that if an innocent life is taken then God let that happen. The possibility of mistakes should not stop us carrying out God’s commands.
It doesn’t work, in the USA…
The US government should heed the wisdom of Solemn:
“When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.”
Ecclesiastes 8 v 11
This is why the death penalty doesn’t work as a deterrent in the United States. Swiftness of execution has to also be established.
How can you say what you’re saying? We live in a civilised society!
No, we live in a society full of unrepentant sinners with no desire to see any of God’s laws carried out in this life. That is why so many people are against the death penalty: sheer bloody minded rebellion against God’s law.
And the last time I checked our so called ‘civilised’ society is in the habit of letting murderers free after 8 years and then acting surprised as they re-offend.
The Death Penalty is so cruel!
No, murder is cruel. The Death Penalty is justice.
I’m having problems here…
If you can find fault in my Biblical argument by all means disagree. If not then you have to submit to God’s word. It might not be nice or happy but it is in the Bible. Remember commands to the individual Christian do not apply to the government and the course of law and order. Also remember how terrible murder is, how holy God is and how unrepentant man is. Then you might see that the death penalty is justified.
But…but…why do so many people disagree with this
As I have said before because mankind is living in rebellion against God and all God stands for. The world hates the death penalty because the world hates God. But as Christians we are called to submit to the will of God and recognise that the only Biblical punishment for murder is death. And we need to thank God that he has delegated his justice to the governments of today and pray that they would keep his law rather than break it.
The Bible is of one accord. Murder needs to be punished by death. Therefore we should support any government who carries out God’s command and is a terror to evil doers. We must always realise that the government should institute the death penalty as God’s chosen punishment for sin. We should submit to the Bible’s overwhelming agreement on this issue. And above all focus on the pain and damage murder causes to the victims not to the criminals.
There is always a choice. If the Death Penalty is implemented then everyone has the choice: murder and risk death yourself. If someone chooses to make that choice then the consequences of their actions are on their own heads.
Very useful, better than this blog post:
Any points I haven't covered whack an email off to me.
I think it is fair to say that at some point during every person’s life the question gets asked “where is God when things go wrong?” The recent earthquake in Haiti is a mere speck in the history of human suffering. Natural disasters, wars, famine, plagues, accidents, torture, murder, terrorist attacks, death, pain, evil… The list goes on and on and on. And when facing such a terrible account of all that is wrong with the world and all that has been wrong and all that will be wrong it is so very tempting to throw your hands in the air and say “If God exists this would never have happened therefore God doesn’t exist”
I will attempt to explain how the existence of a majestic, loving and Holy God can fit in with the evil of the world today. To truly understand where God is when things go wrong we must first answer the question: why do things go wrong anyway?
The answer is simple: sin. Back in the beginning God created the entire universe and mankind and said that it was ‘very good’. God created a perfect universe and put on Earth a man called Adam and then a woman called Eve. These were the first two humans and they were made in the image of God. And for a period of time they lived in perfect harmony with God but they had been given one rule that they were told to obey. And Satan came and tempted the Eve and through Eve, Adam and they broke this rule in direct disobedience to God, rebelling against His authority. Because of this ‘Sin entered the world”. I think it’s worth quoting part of what the curse of Sin was:
“By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
The full consequences of sin was that man’s relationship was God was broken, man lost his innocence, his personality and body became imperfect, the rest of creation was cursed and death entered the world.
So the reason why the earthquake in Haiti happened, the reason why anything bad happens is because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against the direct command of God. This brought sin into the world and sin has poisoned all of humanity ever since. Since then every single human has been filled with sinful desires that express themselves in thought and action. Because of the curse of sin both we and the world we live in are imperfect. Sin is the root cause for all human suffering whether through nature or by man. In other words mankind only has itself to blame for the troubles and disasters of the human race.
But, why did God create mankind knowing that man would sin?
And the answer is we don’t know because God has not told us. Remember, God is much greater than we are, He is above us in every respect and He does not need to explain himself to us.
“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord.”
God is beyond our understanding, we only know as much as He has revealed to us in the Bible.
So, did God have nothing to do with the earthquake in Haiti?
Not quite, while it is true that sin and the suffering and death that results from sin do not originate from God it is also true that God can control sin in this world. Evil comes from the Devil but God can use evil as a tool if He so wishes. The earthquake at Haiti happened because God allowed it to happen; the suffering did not come from God He merely permitted it.
Why then does God permit sin to happen? Why did he permit the earthquake to go ahead?
To answer this question we need to turn to the book of Job in the Bible. Now Job was a wealthy and righteous man who followed God. At a certain point in Job’s life Satan went to God and asked God’s permission to carry out evil against Job. God gave His permission and in the course of one day Job lost all his children, all his riches and then suffered from boils and sickness. Although this evil did not come from God, God allowed it to happen. Initially Job responds by saying:
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
This is a fantastic statement of trust in God and one that shows our proper attitude. God has authority over us, He decides what happens to us and to the world at large and we need to submit to that. Yet Job still wanted answers and at the end of the book of Job God comes to him and speaks directly to Job. What God says is God’s answer to the above question:
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?”
Job 38 v 4 -5
And God asks these questions to Job for four whole chapters! Four chapters! God makes it quite clear that we should not question His actions; God is so much beyond us! We need to remember that.
But, doesn’t that make God a bad god? Ok, you say, evil, death and suffering exist because of sin and not because of God. Yet God controls this sin and permits sin to happen. And we are to submit to God and not question His actions. I don’t like that!
Firstly, if you are thinking that question, then that is pride – you are essentially saying that you know better than God! You are demanding that God listens to you because you are wiser than Him!
Secondly, what should God do? Should He stop all evil? What then would be the consequence of man’s sin? If God acted against all suffering, pain and wrong doing then it would be like God forgetting we had ever broken His law. But God is completely holy therefore sin needs to be punished and it is punished mainly through death and partly through having to live with imperfect bodies and personalities on a imperfect world. There has to be consequences for breaking God’s law.
Thirdly, perhaps you think that God should stop more evil than He does but this argument could just keep going and going until you get to God stopping all evil. Far better to trust in God and realise that only He has the wisdom to decide the full extent to which evil and natural disasters and death can happen.
Fourthly, let me ask you a question: where is God when things go right? It is easy enough to complain when things go wrong but have you ever thanked God for all that is good in your life? For your health, friends, job, income, happiness, security, etc, etc, etc. God has made his goodness abundantly clear to us and we cannot question his existence when we see evil if we do not thank Him for when we see good. Imagine how much worse this world would be if God didn’t act at all! The fact that He restrains some evil is evidence to his infinite goodness to us.
Was the earthquake a judgement on Haiti?
Yes, in a way, it was part of God’s general judgement of sin: i.e. death. The end result of sin: evil and suffering act as constant reminders to us that we are fallen creatures who live in rebellion against God. These terrible events hammer the point home that as I’ve said before:
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 6 v 23
Evil and suffering focus our minds from our present lives onto the eternity which is to come. They act as a solemn signal to the consequences of sin and to God’s wrath against sin.
So what now?
If you’re not Christian you should think seriously about this. The Haiti earthquake reminds us of our own mortality. Seeing evil and suffering should remind you of your own rebellion against God and you’re need for a Saviour. Seeing earthquakes and other natural disasters should remind you that the end result of sin is death. We are all going to die. Are you ready for it?
If you’re Christian you should thank the Lord that He is good and holy and righteousness and fully deserving of our worship. You should take heart that this imperfect world so full of evil and pain will one day pass away and a new Heaven and a new earth will be created where there is no sin and no suffering and we will be given perfect bodies to worship our perfect Lord. And you should take encouragement that God is in control of all evil and sin and that we can trust in Him to do what it best!
And finally let us use this opportunity to do good! Let us give generously to the relief efforts, let us pray for those in Haiti and let us let God show his grace through us!
Benjamin realises that it is not Friday but he felt it important to write this.
For the past century the Western World has been doing its best to weed any concept of God out of society. As each year passes as a nation we are becoming more and more secular. Belief in God is barely tolerated, our Christian roots are disregarded and Atheism grabs hold of more and more people.
Yet mankind still has an unconscious need for some type of divine authority. By throwing God out of our way of life this country created a divine sized hole that had to be filled. Unfortunately for us the State decided to step into the breach and take over the role God has to play in every human life.
Alistair Campbell in a rare moment of truthfulness said “This government doesn’t do God.” He forgot to add “It is God.”
For example take the divine quality of omniscience: that is to know everything that can be known. Throughout human history gods have been assigned this trait and in our modern age the State is doing its best to achieve this goal. Over the past decades the knowledge the State holds about its citizens has vastly increased. Thanks to advances in information technology and the ilk it is easier than ever to store, organise and otherwise analysis information on a vast scale. Even now the State is taking steps to combine all Government databases together to create an even fuller picture of its citizens and all their tastes, ideals and decisions. Just as God is said to have complete knowledge about an individual’s sins so the State seeks to know our every misdemeanour. The only barrier that prevents the State from coming close to achieving its goal is the expensive of it.
Another divine attribute is that of transcendence. In other words being over and above all things. When we look at the State today do we not clearly see this? Name one area of your life that has yet to be interfered with by the State. You cannot because there are not any left. Working life, family life, sex life, charity work, education, health, food, travel, holidays, religion, drinking, etc, etc, etc. There is no area of an individual’s life that remains state free. The State seeks to control and regulate every part of its citizen’s existence. It is impossible for even a law abiding individual to live a life unhampered by that of the State. Every year the level of interference the State subjects its citizens too increases as they continue on their power hungry way.
The State mimics another aspect of God’s character by making sure it is Unique. God does not want humanity to worship other gods. Neither does the State want its citizens to follow any other authority except their own. The State is centralised because it fears what will happen if it allows power to flow to other institutions and individuals.
Every god must have its disciples and the State is no exception. It always does its best to foster belief in itself in its citizens. Usually this is done by accusing all those that stand against it of being ‘unpatriotic’. Propaganda is continually spread that without the State society would fall apart and that a bigger and more powerful State should be the wish of every rational and sane individual. Unlike God who demands belief because he deserves belief the State demands belief because it cannot abide by any opposite notion.
God also requests a sacrifice on behalf of his followers. He requests that they give up time, energy or money in service to him. Many do so willingly, some not so willingly. Unsurprisingly enough the State is no different. For the honour of having the State rule over us it demands from each citizen a sacrifice of money called a tax. Over the past few decades the level of sacrifice the State demands has increased. These sacrifices are then used to reward loyal disciples for their hard work and dedication to the State. The more fervent and faithful a disciple is the more likely it will be that their reward is greater. God requests a willing sacrifice given out of love and devotion whereas the State demands a sacrifice that can be given out of any motive as long as it is given. Respect, duty, fear, compulsion, violence, the State doesn’t mind.
Then there is the whole concept of prayer. When things go wrong in a person’s life then prayer is often what people turn to. They cry out to God for help, mercy and that they would get their own way. This process is replicated with the State. When things go wrong in an individual’s life, when businesses fail, when life isn’t deemed to be “fair” enough then the shouts for help begin. People cry to the State for monetary support, for legislation that protects their own vested interest, for an overturning of legislation that goes against their own interests and they call upon the State to make life more “equal”. And like God the State chooses whether or not to answer these prayers. However, God decides which prayers are answered based on his irrefutable wisdom. The State decides on which prayers are answered based on the number of votes or the amount of money it will get. God treats all prayer requests equally no matter who bows the knee but the State always has its priorities, those closer to the State are decidedly more likely to have their prayers answered.
The State also seeks to be the moral authority for society. The State decides on what is right and what is wrong and then educates its citizens appropriately. Unlike God whose code of morality never changes the State can and will change their perception of good and evil at their own self serving whim. What’s more when we look at the behaviour of the people who represent the State can we really credit it with any moral authority?
The State is becoming more and more like a divine authority. It is fulfilling the role of God with ever increasing confidence and arrogance. But why should we be concerned about such a thing?
God is given the qualities of holiness, perfection, righteousness and loving. God is a being who is beyond our understanding and who can never be or do wrong. God is a completely holy unchangeable being who cannot make mistakes. God is God.
And the State is merely a collection of individuals. The State is a group of human beings who claim authority over a larger group of humans. As such all the flaws, sins and defects that exist in a single individual exist also in the State. But due to its power and size these qualities are magnified to even greater levels. At its worst the State is an instrument of evil and at its best an institution for violence and coercion. Yet our society persists in treating it as a God. We apathetically let the State increase its power over us. We watch from the sidelines as one by one our freedoms are curtailed. We watch as the State seeks to reach even greater heights of divinity.
We all worship at the altar of the State.
And this cannot be good. Giving one institution enough power to rival God? It is madness. We see everyday that the State is imperfect, it most certainly isn’t holy or righteous or loving. It flaunts its flaws at us yet still we persist in sacrificing to it, we still pray to it, we still follow it.
This leads us to a much more serious thought: if the State is God how to we combat it? How can an individual take on a god? I would suggest voting for a party that promises to downsize the State, to undivine it, to lessen its power and give up its authority but there isn’t one. Every single political party seeks greater power and greater divinity.
There is little human action that will solve this problem. Personally, I am going to pray. Not to the State but to God. I will pray for a day when society recognises that the State’s power needs to be constrained, that the State is not a divinity and should not be treated as such and that the god shaped hole in our society will once again be filled by the one true God.
And finally, I leave you with one encouragement. The State is a flawed, imperfect, greedy, selfish, power hungry group of individual human beings trying to set themselves up as God. And when it is put like that how else can it do anything other than fail?