by: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND

On Tue, Aug 16, 2011 at 9:56 AM,
From: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
To: John

Dear John,

Thomas: Since you brought up the issue of capital punishment, I shall now address it, since I did purposely did not include it in the argument re: prostitution with John H.
Yes, I believe there are times when capital punishment is merited.
But, I don’t think we are supposed to mechanically follow the Law regarding capital crimes as they are enumerated in Deuteronomy.

John: I am with you here, about not following Mechanically, and not just out of Deuteronomy. I think we should follow the Law of God with enthusiasm, with both hands, with our whole heart and soul, with joy, with grief for the victims and criminal alike, sympathy, empathy, but with a humble appreciation that the wisdom, grace, and the love of God so far surpasses anything president, king, human emperor, congress, parliament, committee, or Athenian democracy — could craft for law – that there is absolutely nothing not to like. This is not to say that we have a lot of lost time and study to make up, since the Church and Academia has philosophically rejected consideration of God or the Bible when it comes to developing a legal system for about 200 years. We don’t want to take just Deuteronomy, we want to look at the whole Bible, and how it interrelates to all its parts. If there are real, substantive changes in the apostolic writings concerning how the civil magistrate should punish that redirect our applications — we cannot say we are following the Law of God unless we are adjusted by that.
Thomas: You have made a powerful case for the importance of carrying out the commands of the Law, and the consequences of violating both the law, and not carrying out the terms of the Law.

But, I believe something changed with the atonement of the cross. I believe we now live in a dispensation where grace is possible.  I don’t believe grace was possible in the Old Testament days. I base my argument on the premise that there was a change in the heavenlies when Jesus was sacrificed as the atonement for men’s violation of the Law. I believe that sacrifice changed our relationship with the Law.

John: Romans says we died to the Law (condemnation of the law, anyway) through the body of Christ. It is also possible that sometimes when Paul uses the term “law” that he is referring to the special rules for the Priestly/MultiMedia nation of Israel which were never intended for all nations. But I would ask, does it change the Unbeliever’s relationship to the Law?

Thomas: I do not believe the Law changed. I still believe every murderer, homosexual, adulterer… deserves death. I do not believe one jot or tiddle of the Law has changed.
I just believe that grace is now possible.

John: I guess I don’t believe there is intellectual consistency to the idea that grace and law, or grace and justice are in any way opposed to each other or incompatible. “Your eye shall not pity” did not mean you couldn’t feel sorry for the criminal, but it at least meant not to stray from doing what God said was merciful, best, and right, and it certainly meant not to pity the human victim (if there was one) more than the criminal, and it certainly meant not to lessen your zeal for the affront against the Creator God as Judge and ethical authority as Law Giver. Remember that crime, and even sin is primarily against God. “Even from my altar”, He said. He said there was no clearing of the blood-guiltiness that would otherwise bring judgment on the land, except by the shedding of the life of the murderer. If you don’t kill the capital criminal, the whole culture is going to get punished. You might say all this was to picture the Lamb to come, who, once He took on Himself the sin of mankind — if the Father didn’t execute wrath/vengeance on Him, all of Mankind would be executed.

Thomas: The question to me that is more relevant is, “what must we do to access that grace?”
Given that grace is unmerited favor, and God is the dispenser of that grace, I don’t believe we can presume grace outside of having completely repented and accepted His atonement for the penalty that IS due as per the terms of the Law.

John: Now I know it is hard to understand a man is to wear two hats at once. Our minds have been so conditioned to think a certain way, mainly that the Church has nothing to do with anything Legal or Military, that it is hard for us to know what we should do if a capital criminal comes to our church repentant for his sins and crimes. Do we take him in, accept him as a brother in Christ, and keep quiet and not tell the civil government, or possible give him sanctuary from the active efforts of the civil government to apprehend and punish him? Should we plead that, since he is repentant, that God no longer intends him to be punished, citing a new dispensation of grace? Or do we teach him, while comforting him about his forgiveness of sins and his eternal salvation, that he should turn himself into the authorities and accept any punishment as long as it is not more severe than God prescribes (as best we can decipher out of the whole Bible)? Would we doubt the sincerity of his repentance and actual fear of God if he refuses to submit to anything up to the severity prescribed by the whole Bible? In point of fact, he is not going to be facing capital punishment in our generation, even though the Church should or would be teaching that truth. These are serious questions that take study, thought, and time. I do not have all the answers yet, but, as you can tell, I have some serious hunches.

Thomas: The God of the Old Testament “desires obedience, not sacrifice.” 1 Samuel 15:22

John: Wasn’t it mercy to victims and potential victims to execute Agag when and where God said to do it? How many more innocent people were killed down through history from there to Haman the Agagite — by the later descendants of the Amalekites because of Saul’s hesitancy? In Esther’s day we came a hair’s breadth from losing a bunch of innocent people.

Thomas: The God of the New Testament “desires mercy not sacrifice.” Matthew 12:7

John: These verses may have been about other things than civil crime. As I look at the passage, Jesus was chiding them for getting huffy about failures to keep there distorted additions to the law of Moses.

Thomas: I believe God established the Law, and illustrated the Law in the lives of His people in the Old Testament.
I believe that Sin and Satan have been conquered, and they now no longer reign as the rulers of this world.
It is now possible for God to show mercy instead of absolute justice.
God’s nature is love, and he desires repentance, relationship, reconciliation, and restoration. I believe we must accept His sacrifice so that mercy can be substituted for the justice of the Law.
If God gives mercy, then so can we. Without repentance, there is no place for mercy or grace. The Law is still in effect.
I believe in the Old Testament we had to ask, “what is the amount of force that produces obedience?”
In the New Testament era, we must ask, “When should we have mercy?”
I think the man who continues to brazenly rebel against God after having been rightly convicted of murder, is still under the condemnation of the Law, and men have every right to execute judgment on Him as per the requirements of the law.
A man who has not repented, nor renewed his mind, nor committed his heart to repaying the debt, still owes the debt to God and man.
When a man has repented, and the debt is released by God, and the man has paid his debt to man, there are no longer debtors to call claim against the deed.
As Jesus said, “Who is here to condemn you?” “There are none.” “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

John: In the passage of the woman taken (“set up”, of course – probably by the very men who were coming to Jesus) in adultery. Jesus was under no obligation at that time to interfere with the workings of the wicked Roman and Jewish perversions of law that the nation was oppressed by. God had purposely given them this bad situation to motivate them to repentance to honor Him and be thankful. In their day, as in ours, and in the days of King Saul, God gives-over those who reject Him as Emperor to sinful tyrants who charge more taxes and provide less benefits than the Just Mercy of God does. Here, perhaps as with Bathsheba, who hardly looked innocent to us for bathing in full sight of the king’s balcony, God’s Word puts responsibility squarely on the man. But remember that the same Jesus of mercy here was also the One who brings on Jerusalem the worst-ever sufferings of 70 A.D. against an obstinate, unrepentant people.

Thomas: It is up to men to judge the heart, mind, soul, intent, of a man in his repentance and renewal of his mind while we are among the living, and do not have the Throne of God to render His judgment.
It is a weighty task, judging a man’s heart, but it is required for men to do so.

John: These words make me shudder, just thinking of the responsibility. I would think you and I are old enough now to be humble about the ability of men to judge the heart, mind, soul, intent, of a man in his repentance and renewal of his mind.
I do sympathize with your evaluation that it is required for men to do so. How much more important for us to be sure we are mindful of God’s entire Revelation concerning this so that we can anticipate how we will be judged before the Judgment Seat of Christ in the last day. There is a knife-edge to walk for every man who is brought to the point of responsibility about the defense of his life, liberty, or property — or the defense of others like his family, or his neighbors. If we vote or participate in the taking of a human life for some proposed crime (even like politically supporting the Republicans and their Middle East wars) how do we know it is not murder? If we fail to execute a man, for the sake of mercy, grace, or whatever other excuse — are we placing ourselves under God’s judgment individually, or as a society. Will there be punishment against a man who defended a man who should have been put to death? Will there be punishment against a man who had opportunity and ability to use minimum necessary deadly force to prevent, stop, or apprehend a capital criminal — and then failed to do so? June 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and maybe 6, 2009, (and, presumably every weekday thereafter, between Church Services) Dr. George Tiller would have accepted money from mothers, fathers, and probably the State and Nation – to murder the most helpless- and innocent- possible human beings, made in the image of God. He was stopped by a man who put a bullet through his brain on the only possible day and place it would have been possible to do so. Should that man be executed for murdering the Doctor? Was Lord Protector Cromwell in faithful obedience, after taking counsel of God’s word, his trusted friends, and his own conscience, and after having given king Charles I ample opportunity to flee to exile, when he permitted the execution of said king for very many capital crimes and ample evidence of enduring intent to commit more of them? When you think of all these tough questions, ask yourself, “Am I ready to commit more trust to the ethical sovereignty of fallen, sinful, foolish, corrupt men to decide these answers? Or should I trust God’s Word?” Whether you think of One Man (dictator or voter), Few Men (Congress, Council, Parliament), or Majority Man (democracy) — is there any way to derive any ethical authority from Man? No matter what nan or Group of Men you pick to honor with sovereignty in the area of ethical definition of good and evil in the area of crime/punishment — someone could always ask, “What about (this/these) other (man/men) over here? Why wouldn’t they have equal or superior authority to craft a different definition of what should be punished? Why this president and not that president? Why this generation, and not two generations back?
Or maybe we could ask the question, “Why get involved in the punishment of Criminals at all? Aren’t the dangers of being judged by God for not being merciful enough in our punishment – too great to even try?”And I think this is kind of where the Church has been since the War Between the States. “Let’s leave that to unbelievers, we have more important evangelism tasks about getting people to heaven.”We don’t want to kill anyone, it might be murder. We don’t want to fine anyone, it might be stealing. We don’t want to jail anyone, it might be kidnapping. The only problem is, if we do not punish the guilty, there is no possible way for us to avoid punishing the innocent. When a guy steals, instead of holding the capital punishment of contumacy over his head to force him to serve someone (free to pick any master who will commit to repayment of his restitution debts – but he MUST work for somebody, or no one should even feed him). We throw him in jail (which is kidnapping – if God does not authorize this punishment for this crime — and we have to say that kidnapping is a capital crime by God’s GRACIOUS standards) and then punish/fine the innocent taxpayer, perhaps many times over the amount of double restitution to fund his incarceration. This would all be bad enough, but in the end we have given him a graduate education in other types of crime, with new wisdom on what to get away with without being caught next time, while we have prevented him from doing productive work, getting productive training, and growing in personal sense of dignity & worth and reconciliation with the party from which he originally stole, probably with a greater sense of resentment and entitlement against the civil government, and very likely destroying any healthy family like the criminal may have had, including the birth and nurturing of new children into the world.

Thomas: You have documented how our unrighteous society has treated the criminal.  We truly have punished the innocent by the way that we have taxed/fined the law-abiding citizen to care for the criminal.  And yes, it would be cheaper to execute him instead of incarcerating him.  I give no defense whatsoever for the current “corrections” system.  If we are to thread the needle of grace and Law regarding the criminal, then we must implement an entirely new system of corrections and penitence that incorporates a rehabilitation of the soul.  The trip to the penitentiary should not be created to be a de facto vacation, free lunch, graduate school in crime, or a place where crime/drugs/homosexuality are rampant.  For true payment/justice/restitution to take place, the criminal must expect that if caught, and society administers its proper Godly due punishment, that he will not be released until he has paid the last cent of debt.

You have argued for absolute adherence to the guidelines of the “whole Bible”, but more specifically the Old Testament Law.  You argue that giving a man punishment as is prescribed is merciful, and it certainly is to the victim, and likewise to the perpetrator in that it chastens his soul.  The question that remains, “Is there any place for grace in the face of the requirement of the Law?”

I contend that there is.  But, the grace that we are extended by the Father is the commuting/mitigating of a sentence when there has been a true change of heart. I do not refer to the commutation of the sentence because we feel sorry for his childhood, or mental state, or emotional stress.  Thus, it is absolutely necessary that if we do any kind of incarceration, that it be done only with the mind and purpose of rehabilitating the soul.  Currently, political correctness does not allow for the strong medicine of immersion in the Word that rehabilitation would require.

It just goes on, and on, and on. It does not seem to me like we can do anything but destroy life, health, freedom, and prosperity — whenever we depart from God’s gracious and just laws. The harder we try to improve on it, the more we damage ourselves. Bottom line is: God is Owner, master, lord, and controller of all men and things. He has the right to tell us to do whatever He wants us to do. And if we assume He is good, we know that good and evil are defined by Who He is and what He says — not be any man or multitude of men. If He gives life, He has the right to say when that life should end. If He grants the Innocent life, He has the authority to make that grant conditional. He commands men that part of the requirement of keeping that life He has given them — is to stop the physical life of men who smash at His image in certain ways. And if you think about the various kinds of crimes deemed capital — you will recognize that they all smash at God’s Triune nature in major ways. And if He makes us stewards of property and freedom, He has the right to take away what He has given if we don’t require restitution/eye-for-eye, according to His law — for guilty infractions by other men. So God is the owner of men and stuff. He is the ethical authority to define crimes and punishments. If you reject this standard, in all its Biblical fullness – now power or authority in heaven or on earth can prevent you from making some Created Thing your god and substitute Owner and Ethical Authority to define good/evil, and crime/punishment. It is never no law, but Whose Law. And today, the national civil government, very fuzzily and irrationally thought of as Democracy, the Body Politic, the last election, or Public Opinion — is the god of the land. If god, then lawgiver, judge, king (executor of the punishments of that law), and thus its Savior. Is. 33:22 If God says to kill a man, and we try to protect him in the name of grace, we will be no better than the men of Gibia of the last chapters of Judges. They were all killed by the righteous insistence of God, including their wives, children, and animals. You don’t like this killing and fining and coercing in the Name of a just and Merciful God? Hey, let me introduce you to human history that is way worse than this story. Let me tell you of kings and popes and dictators thugs and toadies who murdered and tortured and burned and crushed INNOCENT men, women, and children in the tens and hundreds of millions and all in the Name of More-Gracious and More-Merciful Man. Are we kinder than Jesus?