Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Death = Life?

There's been a debate over the death penalty lately. I posted earlier on it. I have thought about it and here present an addendum to my comments. One argument I hear against pro-lifers who believe in the death penalty is that the two positions are not compatible. It's tempting to retort that pro-abortionists who are against the death penalty are similarly inconsistent. It is true that being pro-abortion is inconsistent with being against the death penalty on all counts. However, I have concluded that being pro-life is not inconsistent with being for the death penalty.

Being pro-life means that one cannot tolerate murder. Recognizing that everyone dies, being pro-life is not being against death. Instead, being pro-life is being against unjust death. Abortion for the sake of convenience is unjust. Putting to death a murderer is just. When one dies due to health problems, this is at least reasonable. For Christians it is just because we are all sinners: we have the hope of a just God who is also gracious. One who is murdered dies an unjust death and it is made just by applying justice to the murderer. Therefore, the pro-life position is better understood as being pro-justice, and the justice is not that which is contrived by human minds, but a principle that transcends us.

There is the matter of a just war, but I'll not address that here. There are also those who may be pro-life and against the death penalty. This sophomoric position is typically propagated by the mistaken notion that this life is all there is. One who would hold the opposite view of being pro-abortion and for the death penalty is warped beyond general analysis except to say that such a one is compartmentalized in their thinking and has the irrational ability to hold opposing arguments to be true.

From this standpoint the most consistent understanding of those who are pro-abortion and against the death penalty is that they are against justice. They may argue that they are in favor of the right of people to choose how to they want to live or die. In order to apply this to abortion, is must be argued that the mother has all rights and the unborn has none. To apply this to the murderer on death row, the murderer must, in some way, be exonerated. What of the rights of those who were murdered? It may be argued that they are dead now and putting to death the murderer won't bring them back. This is true, but it begs the question that the point of the death penalty is to exact a balanced payment and that the only balanced payment is to give the murdered their lives back. This is not justice. Justice is a payment of sorts, but the balance is not the restoration of a previous order, it is a balance of the life lived by the murderer.

This is important for understanding the atonement of Christ. Christ died a just death, but it was not fair. His death was not for the balance of his life, but the balance of ours. Furthermore, the balance of our life was not our physical life, for we all yet die. No, but the balance of our life atoned for is our spiritual life. We have the hope of the resurrection precisely because the continuity of our spiritual substance is not dependent on our physical existence as the existentialists would have us believe. Rather, our physical existence is dependent on the substance of our spiritual continuity. We make all effort to bring the condemned to repentance, and put his body to death as justice demands. Having paid the price for his physical life, he may yet receive the grace of God in the atonement of Christ.

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