The execution of Troy Davis set the social media networks alight last week. The death penalty is always divisive because executing a citizen raises lots more questions than it answers.
Should the state legally be able to kill citizens? How “without a doubt” can we know someone is guilty? Does it really act as deterrence or is it vengeance? Is there a point where a citizen’s behaviour deems them unworthy of living? How movable is that threshold? Should we eagerly execute people, especially when that eagerness mimics most of the countries we’ve been told oppose everything we stand for?
As you can imagine, Jesus wasn’t a big fan of state executions. And I would imagine that he probably wouldn’t encourage us to be big fans either. After all he’s the one who summarised all the commandments in two short phrases: love God with all that you are and love your neighbour in the same way. Sharp eyed readers will spot that he was quoting the Old Testament. Love doesn’t dismiss justice but it does temper vengeance and the overriding desire to be the final judge.
The earliest church preached Jesus’ coming as the dawning of a new age with the Kingdom of God breaking into the present. They preached that Jesus was the last victim and his own dubious state sponsored execution was subverted. While it was meant to silence him and his message, instead it became the means for human salvation, the defeat of the power of sin and freedom for all slaves.
Like all people I struggle with what we are to do with murderers and paedophiles. I would like to see them exterminated rather than maintained at our expense for the rest of their lives. Yet I also know that exterminating people for failing to be properly human is a slippery slope as we continually define what properly human is.
I’ve learned that a healthy faith is the result of asking questions and reflecting on the answers. When I want evildoers to know no mercy where does that leave me? Clearly it is good that God has offered me mercy, but then again, I’m a nice person. Does he offer it to the “bad” sinners too? The cost of faith is answering yes, he does offer the bad sinners mercy. I’m supposed to pray for my enemies and desire their salvation.
And sometimes when you want a dose of feel good revenge that really sucks.
Scripture tells me that I am no one’s ultimate judge; it tells me that even the foulest sinner can come right and it tells me that my main job is to bring light into darkness by declaring the kingdom of God is near.
I don’t mean opening the jail doors and releasing criminals because one day they may be redeemed. I mean believing that maybe the one thing I can’t do is take their life away, no matter how worthless I might perceive that life to be, because I’m not God. I can enact justice to the best of my ability but I cannot enact judgement in the sense of an ultimate outcome.
I’ve learned to be saddened at followers of Jesus relishing an execution. I’m not sure how we can say on Sunday that Jesus has saved us from the wages of sin (death) and express our thankfulness for this undeserved pardon and then on Monday say executing this person is good news.
If I have received so much from God why be so keen to see someone else receive so little, particularly when I believe that one day that person, same as me, will be judged justly on who they chose to be. We don’t have the luxury of giving a message of life to the world that is contaminated with such an enthusiastic support for death.