OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT AND THE VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE
I believe in capital punishment but probably not for the reason you think. And I would guess that many of my readers are opposed to capital punishment and apparently with good reason.
Most of my friends who favor capital punishment do so by maintaining that it deters people from committing crime. They further hold that life imprisonment would not be equally effective as a deterrent and it would impose prison staff and fellow prisoners to dangerous murders. On the other side, my friends who oppose capital punishment maintain that it cannot be proved to be a better deterrent or protect the community better than does life imprisonment; that errors of justice sometimes lead to the execution of innocent persons; and that the death penalty is applied unequally, mostly to the poor and the defenseless, who cannot afford lawyers or appeals.
Honestly, I have difficulty adopting either one of these positions based on such reasoning. Because this issue is so heatedly debated, it only underscores the complexity of the problem. It would seem that for most human beings there is an innate sense of right and wrong. When one person purposely takes the life of another, our inner most being tells us that justice needs to be administered. But how to do that in an equitable way becomes a perplexing task when working with imperfect people in an imperfect society. However, to fail to apply the moral law of the universe may be even more detrimental in the long run. Perhaps it is this failure to do what we innately know is right that is at the heart of our confusion. And it is precisely at this point that I believe both points of view have erred. In an attempt to foster one’s view with impassioned loyalty, each side has missed the fundamental point and has focused its attack on the effect of capital punishment rather than the purpose.
From the beginning of history that moral law which governed the affairs of humankind said, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” In fact, much of our modern day law comes from this section of the Old Testament where this law and others are affirmed. To take another’s life unlawfully violates the image of God and devalues the worth of the life that was unlawfully taken.
At this point I am sure some would say, “But two wrongs don’t make a right.” Or, “Doesn’t the Bible say thou shall not kill?” To be sure these are true statement in and of themselves. But they surely do not apply to capital punishment which is carried out by a duly constituted authority. It is only in the midst of a confused age where thinking has become muddled and all moorings have been cut that such retorts can be seriously entertained. The faithful administration of capital punishment could only be considered a wrong in an age where the majority of people believe there are no absolutes and the value of human life is really not worth very much, except perhaps one’s own life. The admonition not to kill is speaking of premeditated murder. But when the Bible speaks of “capital punishment,” it does so with a sense of integrity. Its faithful administration places a high value on the human life that was unlawfully taken and restores a sense of justice to the image of God which was violated.
Perhaps our emphasis ought to be placed on restoring integrity to the value of human life. Failure to administer capital punishment says that the life of the murderer is of more value than the life of the one who was murdered. To defend capital punishment on the assumption that it is a deterrent to crime, which may or may not be true, is to miss the fundamental point as to why God instituted it as a moral law governing His universe. God was and is far more concerned about the value of human life than in deterring crime. We who believe in the value of human life need to work diligently at purging our judicial system of its inequitable practices so that capital punishment may be faithfully administered.
Wayne S. Hansen