May 23, 2024

What is Mercy? Who Decides What is Just?

Alone amongst the dead header

These questions are at the heart of a debate I’m having with Amanda over the topic of Capital punishment. In this debate, Mercy is a red herring– a diversion.

First, our working definition is flawed1 . Mercy ties in compassion and has the flavor of sparing someone from a negative consequence, rather than just not getting what is deserved2 .

Second, it’s really not the topic on the table. Regardless of who is right in the debate over both mercy and justice3 , the real issue is whether the Death Penalty is just. Which is where we’ll pick up on Amanda’s post.

Amanda does not believe that the Death Penalty is morally right.

Earthly justice, based on our human perceptions and ideas (will he/she get the punishment I think he/she deserves?), and godly justice, based on a higher standard (forgiveness, mercy, grace, and compassion). When we decide the fate of a man’s life, regardless of what he has done, what kind of justice is being served?

Here Amanda gets one thing right and one thing wrong.

Who is God, and How is He Just?

The one thing that Amanda gets right is that the point isn’t what I think or what you think. The point is what God thinks. Specifically, the realm of who lives, who dies, and how long people have to live is clearly out of the realm of ours or the government’s prerogative4

The thing that she has wrong is saying that God’s higher standard is only one of forgiveness, mercy, grace and compassion. Yes, He is all of those, but when the angels call out an attribute of God– one that they repeat in triplets– they do not call out “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” but “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

In fact, the very curse of death is upon each of us because of sin. When Adam ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and good and evil, his eating was enough to cause him to die. It was God’s mercy that allowed his physical body to live for a long time, but he still died.

Same thing with Amanda and myself. God could pardon us from the penalty of our sin when we accepted Christ as Savior– but we both will still die for our sins.

Again, God is holy. That means that when he commanded Saul5 to go and utterly kill the Amalek, to utterly destroy man, woman, infant, suckling, ox, sheep, etc. he was just. He is the same God then that He is today. He’s the same merciful, forgiving, compassionate God full of grace that He is today. But there is justice.

God and Government

And that truly is the question. What does a holy God command about life. What does He give the government in terms of direction on when the death penalty is appropriate.

This closing statement is at direct odds with the previous statement I quoted:

I can think of no circumstance where willfully putting someone to death can be a moral right. We may have to put a definition on morality here, but it’s generally the sense of right and wrong that we innately have. And we do have morality, or else we wouldn’t be so all-fired up to see justice served. I just don’t think justice could ever be served in a situation where the solution is morally wrong.

It doesn’t matter what you think about the death penalty. Obviously, a majority of people innately believe that it’s morally right. This country has a majority of states that have the law on the books. The federal government has the penalty on the books.

Very few (unless you can prove otherwise) felt that justice was not served when Sadaam Hussein was put to death for the killing of his own people. Some Nazis were put to death for their heinous crimes against the Jews in death camps. Very few claimed that it was wrong. And there are very few that, if the person that was killed was their relative, would not think it just that the murder be put to death as well.

However, all of that is irrelevant, because it is not for us to decide who lives or dies. And what does God say about it:

  • Gen 9:6 – Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

But, you say, why doesn’t God strike dead the murder? Why should we be the ones to carry out the sentence?

The verse declares the punishment– death at the hand of man. And God gave this duty to the government. When Paul says in Romans 13:4 that the government ” is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil” the sword is a large knife for cutting up flesh. God’s tool for enforcing the law is the government.

Jewish Law

The government is just for having the death penalty. God instituted the death penalty on many more sins than just murder when He handed Moses the law:

  • Lev 20:2 – Those that offered their offspring as an offering to Molech were to be put to death.
  • Lev 20:9 – Those that cursed their father or mother were to be put to death.
  • Lev 20:10-16– Those that commit sexual sin, both, were to be put to death6 .
  • Lev 20:27 – Man or woman who is a wizard or has a familiar spirit shall be put to death.
  • Lev 24:16 – He who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall be put to death7 .
  • Lev 24:17, 21, Num 35:16, 17, 18, 21, 31 – He who kills another man shall be put to death.
  • Num 1:51, Num 3:10, 38, – If a stranger comes nigh the tabernacle, he will be put to death.
  • Num 15:32 – Violating the Sabbath – Gathering sticks on the Sabbath day got this man the death penalty.

My point is not that these all should be the law today. My point is that this begs the question, was God just in having death as the punishment for these crimes? Was God just in having death be the punishment for eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

Get to the Point

At the heart of this argument isn’t whether the death penalty is just. God stated in Genesis (before the law) that it was. He had it as a punishment for many different violations of the law in His land. So the question of whether it’s morally right is easily answered: Yes.

The question that really needs to be answered is whether we should show mercy or justice. Obviously, Amanda feels that it would be wrong to put someone to death because she wants to show mercy for some reason. But what is that reason?

It’s obviously not innocence. They’ve done something to a relative innocent. And all have sinned and the wages of sin is death.

So, back to my point, the death penalty is just. Whether or not is merciful, well, that depends on the definition of mercy, and to whom mercy should be shown.

(Visited 36 times, 1 visits today)
  1. Under the current working definition of mercy would permit something like this: If I purchased a 10 piece flatware set but was only given 9 pieces the person who sold them to me would have been merciful. []
  2. Hence why in VeggieTales Jonah, the two are the lessons to learn. Nineveh was not only spared God’s wrath via destruction, but they were given a second chance. []
  3. If the person on death row is justly there, it is mercy to spare him– see, definition 3. If he is not there justly, then not giving him the death penalty is just, not mercy. It’s righting a wrong. So, she’s either right that it’s just or right that it’s mercy, but it cannot be both. This is a logic problem– in my opinion. []
  4. The Declaration of Independence of the United States says that the Creator endowed us with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness/property. Therefore, if it is His to give, it’s also His to take. []
  5. 1 Samuel 15:3ff []
  6. Sexual sins listed: Committed adultery, having sex with their father’s wife, have sex with their daughter-in-law, male homosexuality, man takes his wife and her mother, man lies with beast, woman lies with beast []
  7. This is the sin that the Pharisees eventually placed on Jesus in order to crucify Him– that He claimed to be God. []

2 thoughts on “What is Mercy? Who Decides What is Just?

  1. Min! My blog doesn’t exist anymore, but Facebook has started showing me notes in my daily memories… And today had my response to this post. Just wanted to say hello, old friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge