the death penalty

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death yesterday for his horrific, murderous act at the Boston Marathon of 2013. There is no doubt that he deserves such a sentence. The question remains, what position are we as followers of Christ to have and advocate on such matters? Many of us claim to be “pro-life” in our opposition to abortion. But are we pro-life across the board?

The state has its God-given place in the mess of this world, to keep a necessary, provisional order in place. It invariably exceeds its bounds, but death may occur in its just function, even as it tries to avoid such. Execution is an entirely different matter.

What place does the cross of Jesus have in this discussion, with reference to his death? What role did that death play? And with reference to what happened yesterday? I would say (and I said it on Facebook last evening): Death penalty, no, period. Jesus’ once for all sacrifice is for the sins of the world, all sin, including the terrible act of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He should be confined, hopefully redeemed through Jesus. Jesus’ death ends the need for execution.

We say that something new is in place in the world through Jesus’ resurrection. Nothing less than new creation, but still in this old creation which eventually is to be made brand new. Old things, not just in personal lives, but systemically are passing away now, new things are being set in place in and through Christ.

The church doesn’t have to apologize to the world for the new face in Jesus it brings to the world. Which contradicts so much that the world stands for. We have the better way, yes indeed, the best way in and through Jesus, a way that comes not from this world politic and order, but is for this world politic and order. But a way that can never be co-opted into this world system. Yet at the same time bringing accountability and ultimately judgment.

Jesus bore the sins of the world as well as the guilt of the world on that cross. While murderers may well have to be kept in prison, their lives should be spared with the hope that they will have a change of heart and life through the redemptive work of Jesus on that cross.

Perhaps the Apostle Paul should have turned himself in to authorities for at the very least his complicity in the death of Christians such as Stephen. He could have had his day proclaiming the gospel he had embraced before his just excecution. By and by Paul was executed, tradition says beheaded, for his witness to the gospel. Should the Auca Indian (I don’t have his name) who appeared to us in chapel at Our Daily Bread Ministries where I work turn himself into authorities for execution? He was among those who with their own hands murdered Jim Elliot and company, missionaries who were there to share the gospel with them. Afterward their wives returned to continue that witness of the gospel and nearly the entire tribe was converted to Christ. Today the grandchildren of those who were murdered call him grandpa, and God’s love and joy radiate from his being.

No. Abortion is wrong and so is capital punishment. We advocate mercy over judgment even for the state. Because in and through Jesus the possibilities of his redeeming work know no bounds. Even while in this evil world we await the day when final judgment and salvation comes at King Jesus’ return.

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