Theresa Robinovitz is not willing to wait for God to act. Addressing Nikolas Cruz, the gunman in the Parkland school shooting, she said, “I hope your every breathing moment here on Earth is miserable and you repent for your sins and burn in hell.” Robinovitz is one of many relatives of the 17 people (mostly adolescents) murdered by Cruz. She and other family members of victims recently attended his sentencing hearing where they were allowed to give victim impact statements. As far as I can tell from a N.Y. Times article, everyone who spoke wanted the death penalty for Cruz, who was—to their consternation—sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. According to the Times, they were “brimming with rage, disappointment, and grief.”
I’ve always opposed the death penalty. In high school persuasive speaking, I passionately spoke against the death penalty, which is disproportionately applied to minorities who cannot afford good legal representation. Moreover, if an innocent person is executed, there’s no way to redress the legal mistake. Most importantly, life is sacred, and the state that inflicts the death penalty is following the bad example of the killer. This extreme punishment is nothing less than vengeance, with no thought given to the rehabilitation of the convicted person.
Nor is vengeance good for the families and friends of the murdered victim. Anyone consumed by rage at a life sentence for a capital crime is creating a self-imposed psychological prison. To rid oneself of such rage and live without its burden, it’s necessary to forgive. Forgiveness is an act of self-love.
But the Bible does say that vengeance belongs to God. So, what does God’s vengeance look like? I personally reject the belief that Jesus was God, but Jesus was so transparent to God that his sayings—in my opinion—mostly reflect God’s judgements. (I realize I’m anthropomorphizing God.)
Jesus tells us, “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:36-37, CEB).” In other words, while God acknowledges sin, God does not punish in the way that human beings punish. And God’s forgiveness extends both to a murderer and the victims of the murderer. God’s “vengeance”—in human terms—is not vengeance at all. God’s revenge is love. Therefore, God wants us to avoid the death penalty, which is the antithesis of love. And Hell—if it exists at all—is not God’s vengeance upon murderers. Nor is it a fit “place” for those who are deeply angry with the murderer.
~ Richard Russell
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