By Jeff Ziegler
Published May 1, 2000
God has instituted three great spheres of government to restrain the inherent wickedness of man and to further His kingdom throughout the earth. The state, the church, and the family, when harnessed under and according to the law of God, function to augment each other in their respective duties to God. Each of these establishments have powers, both negative and positive, which either reward righteous behavior or punish long term lawbreaking.
The family is given the power of inheritance and disinheritance. The church wields the power of the keys to bind into fellowship or to excommunicate. Whereas the state is charged by God to visibly reward righteousness, and to repress wickedness with the power of the sword. The negative sanctions outlined in each of these governing institutions are all under attack in the modern era. The notion of disinheritance is deemed primitive and against egalitarian models of familial love. Antinomianism within the church has made corrective discipline and excommunication relics of a bygone age. So too, the state has neutered the sanction of the death penalty.
In fact, death penalty politics run to bi-polar extremes that are bereft of any immutable ethical anchor. On one hand, the federal government enacts laws which extend the death penalty to crimes which the Scriptures do not support nor warrant. Continued unchecked and driven by political whim or expediency, such frenetic legislative fits erect the foundations for tyranny. On the other hand, liberal humanistic political paradigms promote the rehabilitation of criminals whose heinous acts demand the death sanction. The liberal humanist denies the inherent sinfulness of man and blames all miscreant acts on the environment. Hence, if you change the environment, you have the chance, in their minds, of reforming the lawbreaker.
The conservative demands justice and claims that the death sanction is a deterrence to crime. The liberal views the death penalty as barbaric and inhumane. Following conservative logic to its ultimate conclusion, all crimes should have the death sanction so as to deter all crime. Consistent humanistic liberalism would punish no one for anything in particular, as all behavior would be reformed through an environmental change and enlightenment.
Therefore, the great malady with both neo-conservatism and liberalism concerning the death penalty is their divorce of penology from the confines and requirements of biblical law. The Scriptures give the immutable standard for the application of the death sanction. Not only are such crimes defined and limited in the Scriptures, the process of carrying out the sentence is also carefully and precisely prescribed. Moreover, the Scriptures give the divine rationale for law itself; that is, to restore the victim of crime, as best as possible, to his original state, through acts of restitution by the perpetrator. This concept of an “eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” or proportional restitution, is fairly easy to work out regarding crimes of real property. However, as in the case of murder, no monetary or like value can be given to restore the deceased individual to his original state. Therefore, the life of the perpetrator is required, and the state is the chief institution to enforce this sanction.
While many secularists view the Scriptures to be harsh and unyielding regarding the sanction of death, the reality is, that far more grace and liberty are found in Holy Writ, than in the avalanche of federal and state laws which dictate the ultimate sanction. For example, the Scriptures require two or three witnesses to any offense that demands the death sentence; whereas the state can and often does convict individuals through circumstantial evidence alone. Beyond this, the state often turns rogue in executing men, women, and children in paramilitary exercises, ignoring due process of law. Witness Attorney General Janet Reno and her 1993 assault on the Branch-Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. In juxtaposition, the Hebrew Commonwealth and Israel under monarchial reign, rarely executed offenders because of the heavy burden of proof mandated for such action.
It is true that many conservatives track closer to biblical paradigms concerning the death sanction. However, they still miss the salient points of restoration, restitution, and retributive justice that Scripture demands, focusing on the theoretical fear or deterrence that death penalty laws engender. While deterrence is certainly a biblical by-product of all sanctions, in application such deterrence is lost through countless appeals, through selective enforcement, and through the mindless attachment of the death penalty to a myriad of anti-biblical laws and regulations.
The humanist-liberal is, of course, even further away from the biblical reality in denying original sin and the reprobate element; their policies put at risk the peace and stability of the community or nation. The belief that all men may be reformed to a more peaceable life is a direct result of the lamentable doctrines of Quakerism, Arminianism, and antinomianism. Liberals claim that the Scriptures are without compassion or mercy. Yet, through their Pollyanna utopian policies, evil is rewarded and the innocent are punished. There is no compassion in leading the innocent into harm’s way.
The clarion call of our day is to abandon the bi-polar, liberal-conservative standard of justice in favor of the immutable counsel of God’s inscripturated will. Then, true liberty and justice will walk hand-in-hand together; indeed, “mercy and truth” will have met together.
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