When a crime is committed, are Christians supposed to side with justice or mercy when it comes to dealing with the accused?
One week ago here in Charleston, a missing person case in the small town of Hollywood, South Carolina, ended the way no one hoped: the body of the 77-year-old woman authorities had been frantically searching for was found in a wooded area only half a mile from her home.
Indications are she died from blunt force trauma and the man accused of her death is in custody.
The woman was a Mormon, and the pastor at her church made an interesting comment after her homicide had been confirmed:
“We will definitely ask for mercy for that individual, but our cries for mercy will go to God, our demand for justice will go to the court.”
Never have I seen such a difficult concept be phrased in such a simple manner.
Recently, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article for CNN’s Religion blog titled, “Why Christians Should Support the Death Penalty,” in which he argues the Bible justifies the death penalty.
He first cites Genesis 9:6, in which God told Noah that intentional murder should be punished by death:
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
The Bible, he says, makes it clear that whoever intentionally takes life by murder forfeits the right to his own life.
On one level, that makes perfect sense. But then there’s that pesky reminder that Old Testament law was in effect at a time before Christ made a new covenant with God’s children.
Mohler then cites a New Testament passage, Romans 13:4, in which the Apostle Paul writes about government:
“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
But what of Christ’s teaching about “turning the other cheek?” Consider this passage from Luke 6:27-31:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Doesn’t this toss out any law regarding theft? If I’m a Christian, shouldn’t I forgive those who steal my stuff? I don’t think I like this idea at al.
Christians in America are constantly required — though many seem to refuse to consider the possibility — that we live in two worlds at once. We live in a secular world where Christianity itself is not the top priority out of an attempt to be fair to people of all religious views (including those who have no religious view at all).
We also live in the Body of Christ, which means we are held to a higher standard that sometimes doesn’t always mesh smoothly with that secular world.
So when a crime is committed, our secular and religious views will sometimes clash.
The Bible tells me I need to forgive the person who steals with me. The secular world has me expect that the person who steals from me will be punished for doing so though our justice system.
For murder, however, there’s a key difference: the person against whom the crime is committed is not capable of forgiving the offender.
The murderer has, by killing the person, removed the ability for the very forgiveness he should hope for from someone who may be called to treat him the way that person would like to be treated. There’s no longer the possibility the wronged can display mercy on the wrongdoer.
The mercy in this case, would have to come from God, not the victim.
Their cries for mercy will go to God, but their demand for justice will go to the court.