On April 15, 2013, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with his brother planted bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line that injured more than 260 people, 17 of which lost limbs, another three died, and while attempting to elude capture he shot and killed police Officer Sean Collier. On May 14, 2015, having been found guilty of 30 counts, six of them capital felonies; the federal jury sentenced him to death.
Many Bostonians were outraged at the sentence preferring life imprisonment; the State of Massachusetts does not have a death sentence for state crimes, but terrorism is a federal crime and Tsarnaev was tried and convicted in a federal court.
Many Christians support the death penalty, and the question often arises if we believe in forgiveness and the sanctity of life how can we support the execution of one condemned for murder. It is a fair question.
Jesus enjoins believers to forgive, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive,” Mark 11:25. We are told to forgive those who wrong us, so our hearts are not filled with hatred that would lead us to do something vengeful. Not all sins are crimes, but some are. Murder is an example of a sin that is also a crime. We are told to forgive sin, crime is addressed by justice.
Before the flood, mankind’s depravity had become so great “that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” So God sent a flood to destroy mankind. Noah and his family alone were spared.
When Noah and his family disembarked from the ark they stood on the brink of the restoration of civilization. The principles of justice that had been lost in mankind’s wickedness before the flood needed to be reinstituted; God commanded, “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. A crime against any citizen is a crime against all citizens. This is why God tasked society with the administration of justice; to protect our fellow citizens.
It was God who instituted capital punishment and His reasoning is human life is sacred because we are created in the image of God. When a murder destroys the image of God in another, the murderer forfeits the right to bear that image. The death penalty was instituted because a murderer does not respect the sanctity of life.
To claim Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness abolishes the scriptural principle of Justice is absurd. Forgiveness of sin and the just prosecution of crime are two separate things. Tsarnaev should be forgiven his sin, but we have an obligation to prosecute his crime to safeguard society.
One of those wounded, Karen Brassard, said there was “nothing happy about having to take someone’s life,” but said the verdict was “a just conclusion.” Death is the ultimate penalty, but it is also just. I agree with Karen Brassard; it was a just conclusion.