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FIRST-PERSON: The Bible and capital punishment

PLANO, Texas (BP)–Several years ago, the state of Texas executed the first woman since the Civil War — well-known murderer and death-row inmate Karla Fay Tucker. Surprising to many, the day Karla died, she was a radically changed, born-again Christian. But just 14 years prior to her death, she was as far away from a relationship with God as one could possibly be.

Many people remember the story of Karla Fay. She was a druggie who began smoking marijuana at age 8 and started using heroin by the age of 10. As a teenager, she sold her body as a prostitute in the streets. And she ultimately wound up brutally murdering two people with a pickax.

But soon after her arrest, incarceration and trial, Karla Fay professed her faith in Jesus. As a matter of fact, a Southern Baptist chaplain in Houston led her to faith in Christ. After her baptism, she became involved in Bible study, prayer and ministry. And every person who met and knew her after her conversion said she had changed.

News about Karla Fay’s execution was broadcast across the nation. Today, the issue of capital punishment continues to spark heated debates between people.

Each time a sensational execution such as Karla Fay’s occurs, the opponents hope to create a national revulsion suggesting that capital punishment is legalized murder. Yet others say that capital punishment is essential to maintain law and order in a civil society such as ours.

As Christians, we can’t make a decision based upon experience, emotions or public opinion polls. It simply can’t be decided apart from the authority of Scripture.

There is a clear distinction in Scripture between murder and capital punishment. God explicitly tells us that we must not take vengeance personally against another human being.

Romans 12:17-19 says, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

In Romans 13:1-2, God uses government and authority to repay those who have wronged another. In those verses, God commands us to submit to governing authorities because of their positional appointment by Him. And when we resist their discipline, we defy the laws of God.

“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:3-4).

I don’t know how it could be any clearer than that. Human civil authority is ordained of Him. “He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Daniel 2:21).

Even though Scripture spells it out for us, some people still wrestle with the topic of capital punishment. At the dawn of human history, God executed punishment over the entire earth with a massive flood that wiped out mankind. Genesis 9 was a new beginning for civilization and standards (see Genesis 9:6).

Simply put, to murder someone defames and destroys the image of God, and disarms the power of God to work in that person’s life. And therefore, there is punishment a murderer must face.

Our world has grown increasingly more violent because we have failed to quickly execute those who are guilty of capital crimes (see Ecclesiastes 8:11). This topic could be debated all day, but statistics show that while executions are increasing, murder is decreasing.

God doesn’t demand capital punishment only because it is a deterrent. Rather, the reason is simple justice, righteousness, and the right of a holy God to execute retribution through those He’s placed in authority.

Karla Fay Tucker came to Christ and I believe she is in His presence now. But there are too many 8 and 10-year-old Karla Fay’s running the streets of our country today. And it is our responsibility to try and reach them for Christ before it’s too late.
For more information on Jack Graham, visit www.jackgraham.org. The website contains Graham’s sermons in audio and video format, as well as an online store with resources. Visitors also can sign up for “A Daily Word from Pastor Graham.”

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  • Jack Graham