Capital Punishment, Forgiveness and Justice

On February 16, 2009, Martin Grossman was executed for killing Florida wildlife officer Margaret “Peggy” Park on December 13, 1984, more than twenty-four years before.  Peggy’s mother said his execution was “long overdue.”

     Grossman who was nineteen at the time and a seventeen-year-old friend were target practicing in a wooded area with a stolen gun.  Park was patrolling the area when she came upon the two young men.  Afraid a probation violation would send him to prison, Grossman managed to overpower Park beating her unconscious with her own flashlight, and then shooting her in the back of the head with her own gun.

     While on death row, Grossman purportedly became a model prisoner and converted to Judaism.  Several Jewish and Christian organizations said his sentence should be commuted to life in prison; he was a changed man they claimed.  Their pleas raise the issue of what bearing remorse and repentance should have on criminal sanctions in the light of Christ’s teachings on forgiveness.  Some recent articles in Christian publications have attempted to readdress this perennial issue.

     It may surprise Christian and Jew alike that the Bible teaches it was God Himself who instituted capital punishment.  When Noah disembarked from the ark and the restoration and reordering of society was at hand, one of the instructions God gave him was “Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man,” Genesis 9:6.  This verse promotes and restores justice needed, but lost before the flood.

     Those who think forgiveness is solely a New Testament idea need to reread the Old Testament.  Jesus merely reiterated and expounded upon forgiveness.  And those who think justice is confined to the Old Testament needed to reread the New Testament.  Jesus is the principal proponent of justice in the New Testament.

     The confusion lies in the failure to carefully understand these teachings in Scripture.  Forgiveness is enjoined on the believer so one can guard their heart from being consumed by revenge and hatred, and to emulate the magnanimity of our Savior.  Only the one offended can forgive the offender.  Society cannot forgive what one person does to another.  In Scripture, society is commanded to seek justice for the one wronged and protect the weak from the aggression of miscreants.  Forgiveness promotes the wellbeing of the one offended, justice promotes the wellbeing of society.

     To assert that because Jesus taught forgiveness He dismissed the proper application of justice is absurd.  Forgiveness does not nullify justice; they each have their proper place.  Jesus never suggested or taught that the death penalty for certain offenses instituted in the Old Testament is now to be ignored.

     There is no way mere men can know with certitude that Martin Grossman was a changed man.  I hope he was, because on February 16, 2009, at 6:17 pm, he met his Maker.  And I agree with Peggy Park’s mother; justice was long overdue.

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