Wineskins Archive

December 18, 2013

Deserve the Death Penalty? (Sept-Dec 2010)

Filed under: — @ 9:37 am and

by Edward Fudge
November 14, 2010

Support for the death penalty is gradually fading in Texas, say Houston Chronicle reporters Allan Turner and Mike Tolson. For years, Texas has topped the list of states in the number of capital convictions and executions. Waning enthusiasm for capital punishment follows recent revelations that two innocent men, Claude Jones and Cameron Willingham, were mistakenly put to death, and the exoneration of Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. The news story ends with a quote from Dennis Longmire, criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University. “In talking to students,” Longmire said, “they say maybe [Jones and Willingham] were innocent of their [charged] crimes but they were probably guilty of something.”

The students’ logic reminds me of the time the school principal paddled my friend Leon for something he did not do, and, upon learning the truth, passed it off with the comment, “Well, he probably did something else I don’t know about that deserved a paddling.” Unjust? You bet — whether spoken by a high school principal or by university students. The fact is that humans simply do not know all the facts, much less the inner workings of other people’s minds, and from these manifestations of creaturely finitude come erroneous convictions, imprisonments, executions and the warped logic in both situations described above.

But there is another jurisdiction, another legal system, in which we all are guilty and deserving of death — if not for one thing, then for something else. That is the picture Paul paints in the first two chapters of Romans. There he lists a number of sins worthy of God’s death sentence (Romans 1:28-32), followed by the comment that the rest of us, who so easily judge others, by doing so condemn ourselves since we also are guilty before God (Romans 2:1-2). The good news is that, by whatever atonement theory we try to explain it, Jesus lived, died, and rose again in our name and in our place, somehow thereby averting from us the punishment we deserved. Truly, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Copyright 2010 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby given to forward, reproduce or reprint in whole or in part, so long as meaning is unchanged and no financial profit is involved.

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