Capital punishment is in the news again and the subject is polarizing even among people of faith. Those who oppose the ultimate penalty argue it demeans the dignity of man. As it turns out, that argument against the death penalty contradicts God’s reasoning for instituting it.
What truth is the dignity of man based on?
The reason Christians believe in the dignity of man is because man is the only creature God made in His image, cf. Genesis 1:26-27. Man’s dignity arises from the fact that he was created in the image of God. That image has been marred by the fall into sin, but is indelibly innate in every human being.
There came a time in the history of man that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5. This is an accurate description of a society completely corrupted by the absence of law and order. It was this cultural climate that precipitated the flood.
Emerging from the ark Noah and his family were tasked with repopulating the earth and restoring the civilization that had succumbed to anarchy. To do that God gave mankind its first law, “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.
The principle of justice is a necessary foundation.
If mankind were to survive as a civilized society, it would only be possible established on a sense of right and wrong founded on the principle of justice. So the Father took the most serious of human offenses, murder, to lay a foundation of justice from which all other lesser offenses could be patterned.
God’s reasoning is when a man takes another man’s life without justification; he is destroying the image of God in another person needlessly, and justly forfeits the right to continue bearing that image himself. And He tasked mankind with the prosecution of justice, “by man his blood shall be shed.”
God initiated capital punishment as a just penalty when a man murders the dignity of another. That is clear from the wording of Genesis 6:9. God did not institute the death penalty as a deterrent; He did so to establish societal justice.
The death penalty is integral to justice.
If we as a society forsake the practice of justice we may find ourselves sliding down a very slippery slope to the precipice of anarchy. Nothing so inclines people to take the law into their own hands as a legal system that refuses to administer justice.
When then Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission Officer Peggy Park discovered Martin Grossman, a probationer, target practicing with a stolen gun in a wooded area, Grossman knew his infraction would violate his probation. He overpowered Officer Park beating her unconscious with her own flashlight, and then shot her in the back of her head with her own handgun.
When he was executed over twenty-five years later Peggy’s mother said his execution was “long overdue.” After robbing Peggy Park of her dignity, I would add, “Justice was long overdue.”