A few thoughts on the death penalty

Published 8:23 pm Friday, January 13, 2017

This past week, a jury sentenced Dylann Roof to death.

Roof, you may recall, entered the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015. He sat and listened to a Bible study and then methodically murdered nine church members in cold blood.

It was cold, calculated, and premeditated murder.


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Later, in his journal, Roof wrote: “I would like to make it crystal clear: I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”

How should Bible-believing Christians think about the death penalty? The Bible says, in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

Many opponents of the death penalty object to it on the basis that it does not deter crime. They may be right about that. Most people who commit the types of crimes that warrant the death penalty are probably not going to be deterred by the prospect of death.

But the Bible seems to support the death penalty, not because it deters crime, but because human life is precious.

That sounds strange at first, but follow the argument: God regards human life as precious, because human beings are created in His image. Because of this, human beings who murder other humans in a cold, calculated and premeditated way can be justly sentenced to death.

I believe the Bible teaches capital punishment. I believe it should be reserved for the worst cases — cases that are so heinous, so premeditated, so cold and outrageous, that justice demands it. I also believe it must be reserved for cases in which there is irrefutable proof that the person is guilty.

I also believe in redemption. There are people who repent and trust Christ on death row. Their lives are radically transformed, from agents of death to agents of love and grace.

They are now my brothers and sisters in Christ. They are sincerely serving God in prison, ministering and making a great difference in the lives of others. They have demonstrated the authenticity of their transformation for a number of years, and there is no reason to doubt their conversion. They are living proof of the power of God to utterly change lives.

I believe that such things should be taken into consideration when deciding whether to actually carry out the death penalty.

But do you realize that all of us, without Christ, are living in the shadow of a death penalty? The Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Think about that. The implication is that, without believing in Christ, we will perish.

But there is another way. We can trust in Christ and have life! Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We all deserve the death penalty. Not just physical death, but hell. But we can trust the One who took death in our place, that we might have life abundant and life eternal.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.