- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While I understand the hesitancies over celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, the execution of one guilty of murder is a mandated function of human government, as described in the Bible. Those who executed bin Laden served the cause of justice required of government. “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers,” says Proverbs 21:15. The joy is in the function of government in punishing and restraining evil.

Early in history, God required capital punishment for murderers when he said, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made man.” (Genesis 9:6). The phrase “sheds man’s blood” is used euphemistically for two different kinds of death. The first is an act of murder (this is what bin Laden did); the second, a just punishment of the murderer (this is what our military did). We must not equate these actions.

The concern among Christians over celebratory responses is partly due to biblical mandates that appear to conflict with one another. Where does love for enemies, forgiveness of offenders and turning the other cheek apply in relation to just punishments by human governments? Addressing these matters has become increasingly complicated as the world has become a more closely connected international community. And widespread, sophisticated communications and proliferation of lethal long-range weaponry have required expanded roles of governments beyond national boundaries. Neighborly love also compels people of goodwill to act on behalf of helpless victims of international crime.

Some wrongly conclude that Christ’s law of love rules out capital punishment and military action. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, not execute them (Matthew 5:38-45). So, because Jesus clearly taught nonresistance and because Christians are commanded to forgive as Christ forgave, how could one reconcile capital punishment with Jesus? Simply stated, Jesus is not teaching about government response to lawbreakers. If applied to criminal justice, it would rule out all punishment and contradict the God-ordained role of government to punish evildoers (I Peter 2:14). Jesus is teaching about forgoing personal revenge, not civil justice.

Others argue that we should not be killing people to show that it’s wrong to kill people. But this way of thinking creates a false dilemma based on a incorrrect comparison because the actions of the state are different from the crimes of murderers. I think it is best not to use the term “killed” to describe what the authorities did to bin Laden. They executed a murderer. An act of murder is far different from just punishment of a murderer. One action is criminal, the other a God-ordained function of government. When capital punishment is wrongly applied or abused by inequities in due process, revisions in the judicial system must be made without eliminating the death penalty.



Sadly, the death penalty is needed to protect civilized society. Elimination of it could lead to barbaric anarchy. Those who willfully take the life of another must face punishment by losing their own lives. Some killing is unjust, and we call it “murder.” Other killing is just, and this we might call “self-defense” in some cases and “just punishment” in others.

Steve Cornell is senior pastor of Millersville Bible Church in Millersville, Pa.

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