January 13, 2017
Seeking the death penalty, particularly in the case of Dylann Roof, leaves no room for the Holy Spirit's inscrutable, saving work.
Thanks Johnathan for sharing your perspective with the community.
There is so much going on here and I don't want to bore this wonderful community with either a rant or a ramble. I just want to say that no one really knows how many chances Dylan has already had to say yes to his creator. Maybe he has already said no one time to many. Maybe these killings were his way of saying no one more time. Maybe he is reaping the logical consequence of his chosen direction in life and maybe God has allowed him to experience the fruit of that life ala Romans 1. I don't want to make believe I know what God has in mind and I am fairly certain you don't either. He is being punished in accordance with man's law which is one of the consequences of breaking law, also in accord with the scriptures. God knows what he's doing and he knows what he's allowing. We don't always know why, but we believe he is wise enough to have it all in hand.
Thanks again for sharing!
Having worked as a therapist with addicts and ex-cons, I rejoice to read this. I've seen no joy greater, no gratitude toward God greater, no understanding of redemption greater than that of one who has hit bottom, and has been redeemed.
As to the merits of life in prison as punishment, I concur.
As to the pragmatic aspects of trials and appeals and delays, and the inequities and failures of the justice system, I concur.
Well said. Thank you.
In Reply to Alberto (comment #29803)
Alberto, thanks for your perspective, too. And I'm so very glad you commented, because it's a perfect opportunity to clarify a few things about my own perspective that, regrettably, are a bit outside the scope of the post above.
Let me be 100% clear that I don't disagree with you. I'm not one of those who thinks it would be evil for the US to execute Dylan Roof (or any duly convicted capital offender). I do have my reservations, but I recognize those are personal convictions, and they're not binding on all society or all Christians. But I do think that Christians face a few caveats that make carte blanche support of capital punishment difficult:
(1) No punishment--capital or otherwise, legal or parental, formal or informal--is worthy of the Christian's advocacy if the primary motivation for administering it is to satisfy anger or hatred (remember, Jesus called that murder, too).
(2) Though I'm open to feedback on this, so far I haven't heard a strong NEW TESTAMENT case obligating Christians to apply the death penalty--and ONLY the death penalty--for capital offenses in the civil arena. I understand that it's a prerogative, and I understand that even as early as the Noahic Covenant it was even mandated, but all of that changes after the cross. Christ satisfies in himself the divine mandate for capital punishment (the blood for blood because the life is in the blood rhetoric), and so our exercise of it on THIS side of Calvary can never be guided by a theological motive that suggests we're duty-bound as Christians to execute a murderer, even if it doesn't necessarily indicate that we sin by doing so either (again the motive is what matters). So, as in other cases where the Bible neither prescribes nor proscribes a particular response, I personally prefer to err on the side of what seems most loving. Which leads me to my final thought...
(3) As much as possible--and as admirably represented by Roof's own victims--our response to crime (even violent crimes of the most heinous sort) should reflect the love of Christ for the offender. I'm talking about the decision of the will, though, not the pleasant feeling. Honestly, if I knew Roof was a Christian, I'd have much less problem with him being sentenced to die, because I'd have confidence that he was on the way to a better place, and it would seem (at least to me) like a more merciful brand of justice than life without parole.
But you're also absolutely right: neither of us knows the heart of Dylan Roof or the number of times he's refused to come to Christ. And I think that if he dies for his crime apart from Christ, the eternal hell he'll face is just. But in the absence of that knowledge, I personally choose not put myself on the side of those who are rooting for it, you know?
Great thoughts, Alberto, and thank you for letting me speak my peace in this forum. :-)
In Reply to JKana (comment #29805)
I wish all the exchanges on these comment areas could/would be this thoughtful and respectful. Thank you so much for hearing me and for clarifying further. So many commenters just get into a testosterone fueled theological urinating contest so I never participate.
I agree with you wholeheartedly. Much of society's response and some Christians so taken with society, is to cry out for the monster to be killed or the witch to be burned. I do agree that this approach is not only not Christlike, it is not mature. However, it is a human response and I can understand why people respond that way, having felt anger in that degree myself from time to time.
My reason for accepting his sentence, whatever that may be, is rooted in NT statements about what government exists for. Punishment of evildoers is what I am focusing on here. Certainly Dylan is that, as a matter of fact, he revels in that and I think he is pleased that he is receiving the death sentence because it validates the ugliness of what he did - to him, it is like the Grammy award for what he did. He did it, he was seen, he surrendered, he admitted it and he continues to reaffirm it.
So regardless what emotions are expressed by the human beings involved, the sentence is being carried out by a government that ultimately gets its authority to operate from God, and is indeed in place for those very purposes.
Certainly the response of the AME congregation in that instance represents the highest of ideals of Christian life and response, as did the response of the Amish(?) when the perpetrator killed the children at that school. We should all work toward that type of maturity and inward peacefulness. I might be able to forgive a Dylann Roof for what he did to me, but I would allow the earthly government, set in place by God, to carry out its purpose as it regards him.
Thanks again, this exchange is awesome - I'd lost hope that comment areas were irredeemable!
As long as he is convicted and has run out of appeals, I want him to die.
On the other hand, it is cheaper to sentence a convict to several life sentences than pay for a death sentence trial and appeal.
It is important to state that good people are on both sides of this question. It is appalling how readily democrats and republicans express hatred for each other. I am puzzled by your limiting scripture regarding the death penalty to the N.T. We are saved by grace, faith, by looking back to the Cross and O.T. saints were saved by grace, faith, looking forward to it. So, the question of salvation, made more clear in the N.T. does not seem to me to abolish clearly stated views of God in the O.T. For example: NUM 35:33, "So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood, it defileth the land; and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein BUT by the blood of him that shed it." Christ did not come to destroy the law . . . It seems you are saying that, while murder is a bad thing, it is not so bad as to require the ultimate penalty for murderers. Some others oppose the death penalty because "sooner or later innocent people will be killed." Because all human institutions are flawed (less than perfect) innocent people will die regardless of what system we follow. The Denver Post, in Jan 2015 ran a front page article by the Scrips news service who had surveyed the unsolved murder cases from 1980 thru 2014 - a period of 35 years. They researched federal, state and local records and found more than 211,000 unsolved, or 'cold case' murders in the U.S. those 35 years. Do the math and this shows, on average, more than 16 unsolved murders each and every day in the U.S. for 35 years. Perhaps one half of those murders were of criminals killing other criminals. If so, then, on average, 8 innocent people a day were murdered and their murderers have not been caught. I wonder if those 8 victims a day would be substantially less if we had a normally functioning death sentence. One that the abolitionists so easily and effectively "game"?
It is grievous that this young man's life now is subject to death row. Death to me is onerous, however, vengeance is not the basis of justice. We are all subject to the consequences of our use of freedom. Mr. Roof was employing a sense of his felt justice in regards to the law. He lives above the law. Vengeance was his guide, even though the innocent suffered from it. No counsel will redeem him from the blood on his hands. No counsel will take away his comfort from letting out the vengeful, bitterness that enveloped him. Only Jesus can Redeem him, regardless of how long he lives, or where he lives out his life. Today if he hears God's voice, today salvation is offered him. Like all of us, tomorrow is not guaranteed.
In Reply to don cain (comment #29817)
Don, thanks for thoughtfully taking the time to comment. I'm sympathetic to where you're coming from. If you'll tolerate it, I'd like to just briefly elaborate on why I focus on the NT above.
God's perfect holiness doesn't change from the OT to the NT, and one facet of that holiness is justice. I personally subscribe to the idea that God's justice entails (but is not exhausted by) retribution, or a basic principle of fairness that demands that offenses be punished in kind and that rewards be merited in kind. I also believe that part of why we feel that retributive instinct ourselves is because we're made in God's image. Not all restorative justice advocates would agree with me on that, but to my mind it's the best soteriological rationale for Christ's suffering on the cross. Apart from a healthy appreciation of retribution, penal substitution makes no sense, and it becomes very difficult to truly explain why Jesus HAD to go to the cross to save sinners. This isn't the place for a lengthy elaboration, but that's the starting point for me in an issue like this.
Christ didn't come to abolish the law--you're absolutely right about that--but he did eternally FULFILL the law. And while it's true that all people who ultimately are saved (in either Testament) are saved in Christ, by faith, it's also true that those living under the Old Covenant didn't have access to the fullness of the New Covenant revelation made available to us post-resurrection. So while retribution is wholly legitimate in justice because God's justice doesn't change from the OT to the NT, what happens at Calvary is that this facet of God's justice is eternally satisfied. Done. Finished. Christ takes upon himself the death sentence for all who call upon him (or who someday might), and so there's nothing offensive to God's justice about a Christian choosing to forego the death penalty in a civil court. There's no command for Christians to do that, but I would argue that there's something peculiarly Christ-honoring about it because it means loving the least-deserving of the world in the same sacrificial manner we've been loved by God.
Essentially what I'm getting at is that the NT is a hermeneutical lens through which Christians are obligted to interpret the OT. So when you read something in the OT like Num 35:33, you have to do so in appropriate soteriological context. The economy of God's salvation under the Old Covenant was different than it is in the New. The fundamental ground of salvation is the same--God's merciful satisfaction of retribution in Jesus Christ--but the way that is worked out in the life of God's people is different on this side of Calvary. If purging the land of murderers then witnessed to God's holiness, foregoing the death penalty in our time witnesses to God's inscrutable mercy. Only in Christ do both of those come together without contradiction.
I hope that makes sense. These are really tough topics, and I don't talk about them lightly--or easily. I really appreciate any Christian who attempts to work through them, regardless of where they finally come down on the issue of capital punishment.
Romans 13:1-5 is written by the Apostle Paul and he is talking about the role of the state and its use of use of the sword as the minister of God to execute wrath on evil doers.
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
In Acts 25:11 Paul says: For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.
Paul is clearly giving full justification to the state's use of the "sword" which is a clear reference to the death sentence.
There is a vast difference between the state and the church and its role in society. The church, all believers, are to demonstrate the love and forgiveness of Christ; but the state is still God's instrument to maintain justice and protection of its citizens.
Hermeneutics is not a lens. Hermeneutics is the ruler upon which we exegiate God's mind. Regardless of your denominational lens, if the precepts and understanding of man's responsibility change depending which "Testament" you are reading then you lose the Fear of the Lord, the Lord who loved justice, demands righteousness, imparts forgiving grace equally- and liberally to all who come to Him. (Prob. 1:1-5). The whole counsel of the age of the gospel is the call to submit to the Kingdom of Christ, the day of the LORD is at hand, and when the call for salvation ends, as the King is seated at the throne of Justice-as delineated in Daniel 3:44-45; Rev. 19:11-21, ( note Christ is the stone-cut Romans 9:33, context, vs. 22-33.).Then are All things summed up in Christ.
To confuse vengeance with Justice is confusing Moral reformation with Redemption.
In Reply to Gary W. Martin (comment #29825)
Gary, you're raising an important distinction, and I applaud it. The NT perspective on the role of the state in carrying out God's justice is well-established, and it's something that tends to be deemphasized in many restorative justice conversations. If the state executes Dylan Roof, I believe that it will represent both human and divine justice being carried out, and no Christian ought to feel remorse over it--save over the tragedy of sin needlessly claiming another life.
Nevertheless, I would just point out a couple things, lest we press these verses past contextual warrant:
(1) It doesn't necessarily follow from a Christian's acknowledgment of God's sovereignty over civil justice as an instrument of divine justice that a Christian citizen MUST endorse a particular legal proceeding or juridical sentence as though to do otherwise would be to go "against" God's will for the offender. Or, to put it another way, God's superintendence of human affairs doesn't preclude Christian civil engagement or political advocacy. It simply means that whatever ultimately DOES happen falls squarely within the purview of God's sovereign will. So when Christian citizens are civilly governed by laws that stem from an authority not directly mediated by God's word (i.e., not the Mosaic Law), and especially where those laws provide a legitimate punitive alternative to capital punishment for the same offense (i.e., the offender doesn't HAVE to die in order for civil justice to be carried out), it seems perfectly legitimate (and potentially spiritually commendable) for a Christian citizen to advocate for the punishment that leaves the most opportunity for the offender's potential salvation. That still satisfies both the letter and spirit of what Paul was saying in Romans 13.
(2) It doesn't necessarily follow from Paul's willingness to submit to capital punishment that he was instructing Christian citizens NOT to advocate for mercy in the imposition of capital punishment on others. The offender's submission to just punishment is an altogether different matter than the Christian's advocacy of a particular punishment. For the record, I do believe that the NT amply supports the notion that a duly convicted and self-consciously guilty offender best honors God by submitting to the just punishment handed down by the civil courts. Nevertheless, to say that it honors God to submit to punishment is not quite the same thing as saying that the punishment itself is necessarily the most God-honoring choice for a particular legal outcome.
Again...such a thorny issue. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to comment, Gary. I'm encouraged that this post has elicited these thoughtful rather than inflammatory responses.
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