10 July 2011

The First Murderer

Here’s an interesting question for those of the religious right who support the death penalty:  Why didn’t God kill the first murderer as punishment for what he did and what principles, if any, can be derived from this?  Obviously, God has no issue with smiting sinners (cf. Korah & co., Nadab and Abihu, Uzzah, and a host of others).  God didn’t have an issue with people being put to death under the old law (Numbers 35:31). And the New Testament at least allows the government to execute justice which, presumably, includes the death penalty (Romans 13:1-7).

Finding an answer is complicated by two things.

First, God claims that his character remains unchanged (Malachi 3:6).  This means that his principles remain unchanged over time, and one must reconcile the principle of his sparing Cain with the principle behind his command/permission to kill murderers during later dispensations.  In essence, one must make sure that one doesn’t take a position that requires God to play the hypocrite.

Second, one must also keep in mind that God’s commands and expectations are occasionally modified to account for man’s weaknesses (Matthew 19:8).  Quite simply, God has, on occasion, settled for a less than ideal state in order to bring about an improvement of the current situation.  This should be kept in mind as a possible explanation for God’s decision to go from sparing murderers to having them put to death.  It’s not that they deserve death; it’s that most people believe they deserve death and God is simply being sensitive to that.

I’m not sure the question I posed at the start has a clear-cut answer, but I do think it’s an important question to ask.  I don’t favor capital punishment, but mostly because I don’t think that the representative government which I live under should assume the “right” to kill the people it claims to represent.  That, and I don’t think Christians in general should be gung-ho about people being out to death while in their sins.  (I also think that pursuing justice in this life is somewhat overrated, but that’s a post for another day.)

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