The problem of the death penalty


 Since the death penalty is back in the news with the Boston Marathon bombing trial, here’s something for you (and me) to think about.  It has to do with where the death penalty comes from, what crimes does it apply to today, and who is really the party with the best standing to impart justice.


Where does the death penalty come from?

This one may not sit well with some people, but it comes from the Bible.

The first instance where it’s mentioned is –

Ex 21:12 “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. 13 However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.

To be sure, there are a whole lot of other cases where the death penalty applied in those days.  Under certain circumstances, kidnapping could result in the death penalty.  The same was true for attacking one’s parents.

In some cases, there was the concept of an “eye for an eye”.  Rather brutal.  Especially when it was literally “an eye” that was in question.  Or a hand.  Etc.

The method of being put to death was also rather brutal.  Stoning.

But today, we’re more civilized.  Or at least we think we are.  But what maybe gets lost in the claim of being civilized, could be the concept of justice.  More on that later.

What types of crimes can result in a death penalty today?

This is what got me started thinking about the whole topic.  I was listening to a news program this morning, and they were talking about why Richard Reid, the shoe bomber wasn’t eligible for the death penalty – but Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is eligible for the Boston Marathon bombing.  It may seem odd that attempting to bring down an airplane full of people would not fit the profile of a death penalty case.

The reason?  No one died.  The bombing plot failed.  In order to get a death penalty sentence in the U. S. these days – according to this news program (I didn’t verify this) it’s essential that someone died.  Aggravating factors, such as premeditation may also be required.

And there’s the key issue that I’m bringing up.

Someone had to die.  And it wasn’t an accident or an act of passion.  

It very much has to fit within the parameters of Exodus 21:12-14.

Who is the party with the best standing to impart justice?

This is where the hard part comes.

I’m wondering – wouldn’t the party with the best standing to impart justice in death penalty cases be God?

No matter where you currently stand – for or against the death penalty – with whatever reasons you have – I’m just asking you to consider that one question.

The person(s) whose death triggered the death penalty option – they were one of God’s children.  
I know – some of you don’t even agree with that statement.  But I do believe it.

So what we have is a conviction, in which the death penalty is given.

Some would choose to put the person to death.  
Some of them insist that it be a humane death.
Some would like it to be as inhumane as possible.  That seems to be a pretty popular choice for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from what I’ve seen so far.

Others would prefer that the person spend life in prison without possibility of parole.
Some think this is a miserable existence.
Others claim that life in some of the federal prisons for non-death-penalty cases isn’t as bad as we tend to think.
I believe that last claim very much depends on the living conditions of the person outside of jail.  For those living in poverty without enough food to eat and no hope for a better life – neither choice is good, but I’m not in a position to say which is better.  Only they would know.

In any case – if the person is convicted – and especially in a case like this one where there’s no question as to the guilt of the person – who better to pass judgement than God?


 We don’t know what’s in the person’s heart.  But God does.

If God chooses to forgive the person, are we not prolonging their misery on earth by sending them to a maximum security prison for the rest of their lives?  Because – if God forgives them, we’re prolonging the time before they reach Heaven.

If God chooses to not forgive the person, is there anything we can do to them that’s even close to spending eternity in Hell?  In that case, the question becomes whether or not we’re providing a bad experience – but still far preferable to Hell – claiming that we are serving justice – while true justice is actually delayed?


As I said – something for both you and me to think about.  I haven’t reached any decision myself.  It’s just that the program this morning made me think about this.  
Of course, in our society today, none of this is going to be considered in a court of law.  

But it is something for us to consider in our minds and our hearts as we pursue our walk with God.


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