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Rethinking Justice: The Value of a Life

5/19/15 Update: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Boston Marathon bomber has been sentenced to death. The discussion is relevant once again.

The United States’ use of the death penalty has come up in various circles for me this week. First, I was invited to sign a petition asking the state of Georgia to stop the execution of Kelly Gissendaner. I proudly say I was one of over 80,000 signatures. For more of the story and purpose of the petition, click here. Many people are calling for the justice system to actually bring proper justice to this situation. There is also a hashtag for this same cause. #KellyOnMyMind

The topic also came up regarding Craig Hicks, the man responsible for the death of three students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina- my home. I’ve already written my views on the treatment and sentencing of Hicks, but today our student paper ran an editorial confronting the recent announcement that Durham County is seeking the death penalty against him. The writer examines the unfairness and a few racial biases present in the way the death penalty is served.

I’ve been against the death penalty for a few years after really examining my faith and realizing Christianity teaches everyone is unworthy, yet God grants grace and mercy anyway. Present relevant circumstances have brought this back to the front of my mind.

I read another article from a Christian perspective that you can find here. The article states that “the death penalty never preaches the gospel.” Amen, my friends.

Even if you disagree with some of the things presented in any of the articles, at least be educated on the opposing views. I’ve had people, friends mostly, argue that the death penalty is necessary to bring justice. Basically, people deserve to die because they should pay for the crimes they have committed.

I’d like to argue that we all deserve death, but thankfully Jesus paid that price already and we have the option to accept this precious gift and be cleansed. Kelly Gissendaner accepted and is now an innocent child of the Father. Is she guilty of murder? Absolutely. But so am I. So are you. I crucified a man some 2,000 years ago.

My favorite song (How Deep the Father’s Love For Us) actually showed this truth to me. I’d never accepted my offense. I’d never been convicted. And then I heard these words and started to cry. I don’t like to cry, so I quickly dried my tears so no one would see the true weakness within me.

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

But the song brought hope. It is finished. The words of Jesus Christ brought hope. It is finished. I was once undeserving, but now I have been made new. My record has been wiped clean by the Almighty Judge. See, I believe God is the only one worthy of serving justice. He’s the only one who can. Because he’s the only one who has never sinned. He is the only one who can plead not guilty.

That’s why it’s really silly for humans to try to serve justice with the death penalty. Especially Christians. Don’t you know the gospel preaches the death penalty is no more?

And on a non-religious note, is it incredibly wise to leave the decision of life and death in the hands of the government? Yeah, yeah we live in a democracy. But be honest with me. The government’s power lies in the hands of a few and I am powerless. At least, I am powerless alone. That is why I’m writing.

I don’t want to fight this alone. The death penalty is an injustice. It’s not a matter of who deserves it because you have no right to determine who is worthy of life. The Declaration of Independence states “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as unalienable rights, yet our government determines our worthiness of these things for us. That is not true freedom and my rant about that should probably be saved for another post. Anyway, these rights are given to us by God and can only be taken away by God. Not other humans. Not through infallible human laws and human efforts.

There are alternatives to the death penalty such as long-term prison sentences. You may argue it is a waste of your tax money to keep the prisoners alive, but no human life is a waste, and I will fight you endlessly to convince you of that. There is evil in the world that should be defeated and you may argue the death penalty lessens the evil. But sadly it doesn’t. It is murder. And murder is evil no matter who commits it. You may argue that God takes human life away and that isn’t fair, and I’m going to tell you that I question things like that too. Believe me. But I know and have experienced too much about God to believe he is anything less than perfectly good. I also know God is Supreme and I am far too inferior to question whether what He does is good or not. That’s not a simple answer. It probably sounds like I’m avoiding the question. But honestly sometimes I have to remind myself that God is God and he is the law and he is always right.

I believe in justice. I also believe in second chances. I believe in second chances because I was given a second chance. I was given a chance to be better. I was given a chance to find ultimate joy. I was given a chance to be cleansed. The death penalty offers neither a second chance nor redemption and it certainly doesn’t offer justice. It is time we rethink justice.

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