As the execution of Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, approaches there will surely be a rise in the debate over the issue of the death penalty. Unfortunately, both sides often talk, over each others' heads and the discussion rarely moves toward any kind of resolution.
Those who oppose the death penalty often cite religious convictions as the reason for their stand. Death penalty advocates, on the other hand, rely on the same God and the same source (the Bible) to defend its use. How can two contradicting views find support from the same God they claim to serve and the same book they claim to believe?
I think the answer lies in the fact that each group relies on only part of what the Bible says about this issue. Yes, the Bible defends the sacredness of life (Ex. 20:13, "Thou shalt not murder") as well as provides for the death penalty in certain cases where this command is broken (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:1-4).
One scripture not often mentioned however, is Ex. 23:7, where God provides the balance between these opposing views.
"Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will acquit the guilty" Ex. 23:7.
Note that both the death penalty and the prohibition against it are laid out. Yes, the death penalty is permitted, but only for those whose guilt can be determined beyond doubt.
I applaud the recent halt to executions in certain states because it was found that too many mistakes were being made in determining guilt. I applaud it because it maintained society's "God given" right to protect itself against murderers but not at the expense of ending an innocent life.
The sad truth is that there will always be the criminal taking of life. When considering this, however, we should not make the mistake of promoting the death penalty as a method of deterrence rather than one of "divine justice."
Our goal is not to remove what God has put into place for justice's sake. Our goal is to make absolutely sure that justice is carried out fairly in every case. In the end, God's justice will demand a reckoning from the accused as well as the ones carrying out the justice.