Isn’t it much deeper than liberal vs. conservative?

Okay, as many of you know, I was called to serve my city as a possible Juror.  About a month ago, I was sent to North Austin to fill out a questionnaire.  I was among 300+ individuals.  Of those 300 we were narrowed down to about 115 people. Then the 115 of us were called into a courtroom as we marched in we were faced with the defense team, the prosecutors, and the man who was being charged with capital murder.  I have never been face to face with a man who had murdered someone else.  We were to quickly find out that in the State of Texas there are only two possible sentences for someone convicted of capital murder – Death or Life without parole.

When Sarah and I first got married, I was more republican than most republicans.  I thought the death penalty was genius, and not exercised enough, heck, I thought the death penalty deserved a national holiday.  Sarah was not so pro-death.  I thought her views were naïve and weak and she thought mine were cruel and brutal.  Needless to say in the last 10 years I have progressively or digressively changed (depending on your view).  However, what I found, was that it is one thing to have an ideal or theory, it is another thing to sit in front of another human being and realize that you may be the deciding vote on whether he gets death or life. I honestly thought I would have no problem with that. I thought that it would be like a business transaction, in which you just emotionlessly make a decision.  But that’s not what happened, at all…

It’s not like I was choosing death or life on the outside – no matter what, this dude was being taken away from normal society.  He could not pose a threat to any person outside of prison.  It wasn’t a split-second decision in which I had a gun and he was attacking my family that I was entrusted to steward and protect. We weren’t on a battle field.  Theoretically all these different scenarios would have made it more cut and dry for me.  However, I found that I was being confronted at a deep soul level.  My ideals were being confronted by reality and possibly kingdom ethics.  My nationalism was being confronted by my reality of a new Kingdom.  If I was to be chosen what would I do…

  • Would I kill the man who killed another man, and call it justice
  • As an American I had certain civil responsibilities, but what are my responsibilities as a citizen of the Kingdom?
  • I know Moses told me that an eye for an eye was just, but didn’t Jesus say something about that.
  • I know the argument that goes something like this, “If you give them life in prison that is more of a burden on the Tax Payer, the question is about the greater good!”  I totally get that, and for me, in theory I agree, but when I sat across a 3 foot wall from this man, did my scriptural value on humanity allow me to put a price tag on this man…
  • Was this lowering myself to his level?
  • Was this making a decision as an American?
  • Was this leaving this in God’s hands, or was it playing God…
  • I realized that killing this man would not bring back the lives he took, yet I also realized he deserved death for what he did…but from an eternal perspective, didn’t I as well…
  • Am I supposed to separate mercy from carrying out my rights as a tax-paying citizen?

I could go on and on about the thoughts that went through my mind.  But, I sealed my fate as a possible juror , when I walked in the court room for my one-on-one interview and took my place on the witness stand and was asked the question, “can you promise me that mercy will NOT be part of your decision making?”  I said, “No, I cannot promise that.”  As I was answering, the defense stood up and said, “objection, that question is not fair!”  It was too late, I had spoken my response.  The funny part in this was when the prosecutor told me, “now you realize that mercy is being generous to those who do NOT deserve it?”  I thought, “Oh, yes, I know that is what mercy is, I have experienced it to the fullness?”  But it didn’t matter, I had already sealed my fate as a fan of mercy, which apparently is not so popular.

So, now I don’t have to make that decision, life or death.  Frankly, I’m glad I don’t have that on my shoulders.  Truth is, I don’t know what I would have given him, as I didn’t know the details of the murder.   What I did learn, is that I don’t belong on a team where mercy is not an option, and on a deeper level I had to come to the realization that I was the man behind the 3 foot wall who deserved eternal death but Jesus gave mercy.  I know some of you say, “this is different”  Maybe it is…and thank God I don’t have to decide that…

How different would we be if we expanded our worldview from the tiny little lenses of conservative or liberal, and decided to see our world through the lens of the Kingdom.  What I am saying is,”allow the truths, characteristics, realities, and possibilities of the Kingdom to confront your ideals, no matter what they are!”

Let me end with a quote from Alexander Pope, “Teach me to feel another’s woe, to hide the fault I see: That mercy I to others show, that mercy shown to me…”

until next time…

Matthew

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11 thoughts on “Isn’t it much deeper than liberal vs. conservative?

  1. Amazing how it’s so easy to think a certain way when we are emotionally removed from a situation. But put that issue in the same room, and suddenly our humanity, our fragility, our pathos takes over and what previously seemed to be a cut and dry issue now gets filtered through our own brokenness.

    Good thoughts, Matthew.

  2. I found myself interestingly challenged by this, to think in a direction that I had not thought about.

    It is true, that we all deserve death, but the important thing is to know what we deserve death for. We do not deserve death for some sin we committed nor some wrong we embraced. We deserve death because we are fallen creatures, we deserve death for simply ‘existing’. On this plain there is only one who can punish us and bring us what we truly deserve. Only God can meet out the penalty for this state of being. And we ALL truly deserve it in it’s fullest extent. But, again for emphasis, ONLY God can meet out that punishment.

    However, in the affairs of men. Where flesh rubs flesh and bone rubs bone, when a man takes the life of another, he deserves death. However, this penalty IS indeed sanctioned by God, but it is carried out by the hands of guilty men, men who are guilty and tainted by their simple existence, BUT are clean with regard to murder in it’s physical manifestation.

    We do not deserve mercy, for our existence and our being, but God graciously grants it. In addition, ONLY God can grant mercy just as only God can grant death for this particular problem. For murder, however, this is given over to man to meet out as it is right. In addition, man is NOT given the power to grant ‘mercy’ as he has no mercy to grant. The real problem is the difference between what we define as ‘grace’ and what we define as ‘mercy’.

    The prosecuter was incorrect when he stated that ‘mercy is being generous for those who do not deserve it.’ While mercy is indeed a kind of generosity and it is very much for the undeserved as we all are, mercy has the component of being completely absolved of a crime. In other words, we are not just simply ‘being nice’ we are absolving the offender completely of a wrong completely. Some things are indeed in our power, other things are not. It is NOT the right of man to absolve another of his guilt period. Only God can do that. There is a place where we can indeed grant mercy and that is when we have been wronged, but a real crime, one that has an impact on society such as rape, theft, murder, incest, etc. etc. etc. we cannot and are not allowed to ‘absolve any of their guilt’ but rather are responsible for the meeting out of justice.

    Through mercy God withholds something we deserve. Death, and through Grace grants us something we do not deserve, mercy. As cyclical as it sounds it is important and necessary that both be in operation for salvation for sure, however as we as men MUST meet out justice, the real problem that many have with the death penalty is not necessarily that it takes a persons life away from them, but rather how very little it takes to condemn the man in question.

    Lawyers compound evidence and draw conclusions and hope that you as a jury draw the self-same conclusion. The problem is that there is nothing Biblical about being tried by a ‘jury of your peers.’. I personally would NOT be favorable of being tried by such a jury because 90% of the human race in America are blithering idiots who have a hard time rubbing enough thoughts together to make a simple spark. Self-professed Christians are equally or more dim. The Bible plainly says that only an eye-witness can condemn a man with a testimony. The importance of this is that when a jury condemns a man, they can simply go home and even if they screw it up they can just say, ‘We (cooperatively) made a mistake.’ But if a person lies on the stand and perjures themselves they draw the wrath of God upon them as a lier and a murderer themselves. Our judicial system is anything but right, is anything but just, and anything but good. God’s law is good, just, and right. Our judicial system was created on the idea that God is not really present in our midst in a real way, it was created by our countries forefathers who were all deeply entrenched in ‘Unitariansim’ and had the idea that God simply spun the earth and walked away, and that some magical system of rules He created is in control of it all. Many ‘reconstructinists’ believe this in theory, but do not admit it.

    Now, I ramble, but your post seriously got my gears to spinning. Your posts are incredibly evocative. With regard to your more earthly ‘face-to-face’ reality of ‘granting death’, I do not envy anyone of that burden, nor do I ever hope to have to make that decision.

  3. WoW! Rob…well, I appreciate your time, but man. But I think you neglect partial in attempting to display the fullness, the micro in attempt of the macro.

    First, I don’t think the attorney was wrong in his definition of mercy, yet in saying that I am not saying I think he was complete either. He is an American Attorney, not a 1st century theologian speaking Koine Greek, thus his definition will reflect so. For example, according to the definition setting in front of me Mercy “is compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; lenient or compassionate treatment; imprisonment rather than death imposed…” So, while this definition is short of the 2-3 page long Biblical definition, it still fits into it. So, according to this, he was very right. There is nothing in the Bible that we see that does not call this mercy as well, and nothing in the scriptures that does not allow me to show this sort of mercy. The question was not, “should we punish him or not…” The question was, “life in prison or death...” In fact, we are commanded to show mercy, I think it is obvious we can’t show mercy on an eternal level, but I also think it is obvious we can show mercy on an earthly level that allows people to get a tiny glimpse of what a COMPLETE mercy would look like…And according to that definition that the Attorney leaned on, no one was talking about absolving of guilt (or scripturally – justification) rather absolving this man of what the state says he may deserve, death. So while, I agree that this sort of mercy is not the full extent of the mercy that Christ showed us, the mercy that Christ showed us is not absent of this, and it is the best way we can exemplify some fraction of an understanding of real mercy…

    Second, though it is true that we are shown mercy and that we deserve death not because of a specific sin we have committed, but rather because we are born sinners, yet because we are born sinners, and continue to sin, continually solidify and prove our justly deserved death, we are also shown mercy for sins we commit as well. So, my point is not that we don’t deserve death for being born sinners, but that we deserve death for the fact that we are born sinners and for the fact that we continue to sin.

    Third, instead of retyping it all, I think your third full paragraph is not so much wrong, but rather limited and incomplete in its thought. Plus I don’t think the ‘real problem‘ is the way we define ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’ – I think everyone here knows the difference very well…

    The sixth paragraph seems like it is full of truths on one hand and then on the other full of judgment, and personal opinion…I think it is pretty weird to judge our definitions of mercy, justice, grace, and our judicial system as wrong in light of God’s mercy, justice, grace, etc…while at the same time claim that 90% of humanity are bithering idiots. My assumption is that on that one we get to stop comparing it to God’s idea of understanding or intelligence, which is inconsistent with the rest of the argument. If we keep it consistent with the rest, then the number is more like 100%, and you and I are included…

    Anyway…thanks for the challenge…and making me think this late at night…now I’m gonna have trouble sleeping – HA!

  4. I agree that we are indeed commanded to show mercy, but my intention was that we can only grant mercy over what we have the authority with which to grant mercy. We cannot grant mercy over the eternal nature of our being. In addition, we are not allowed mercy over the murderer in our midst. The very reason why old movies you often saw it said, ‘May God have mercy on your soul.’. Over things eternal we are just simply not allowed. Of these eternal things, the crime of murder is among them. Ending ones life is indeed one of those eternal-type things insomuch as we can possibly understand. Mercy on the murderer is something we are just not allowed.

    You are somewhat correct with your observation of my sixth paragraph, particularly with regard to my ‘90%’ statistic, however it is indeed true that the fathers of our nation were indeed Unitarians in denomination, and like today’s church varying in their applicable truths. Some place George Washington in the ‘Episcopal Church’ and while I do not know of his later life, I do know he did attend and serve as an ‘altar boy’ of sorts in Unitarian denomination. With this ‘world-view’ it is easy to see where a humanist ‘jury of your peers’ would eventually reveal itself being that it show more of a trust in man rather than a trust in God and His scripture.

    Also, reconstructionists do adhere to a kind of deism just as the Unitarians did, it is plainly evident in the writings of Bahnsen, Rushdoony, and Gary North. Do not get me wrong, I respect them deeply except with the issue that adherence to God’s law is some kind of magic that we cannot understand and when you tithe something magical happens because there are these ‘laws’ governing the world.

    With regard to ‘civil law’ the Word does indeed prescribe a more ‘just’ model, but we as a nation will never follow it, nor will we obey it. For more on this, I highly recommend Mr. Rushdoony’s ‘Institutes of Biblical Law I, II, and III’ which is an amazing treatise on the topic, although it is a committed read. I cannot prescribe to all of his work, however those three are pretty much unprecedented expose on the ten commandments.

  5. I need to clarify a couple of my statements lest someone believe I adhere to the ‘Code of Hammurabi’ with the idea of ‘an eye for an eye’, I do not agree with that ideology at all. While scripture sometimes criss-crosses with the wisdom of man, (or should I say the wisdom of man sometimes criss-crosses with the wisdom of God) the Hammurabis Code is indeed humanistic to it’s very core and is not the way we are to behave. God’s law goes beyond this. If you steal a mans mule (mules were used for a mans livelihood) you were not simply commanded to repay the mule, but seven times the mule so we are not to repay as today’s present law would have us, but seven times. If the law for a mule is seven times the theft of the mule, I can only conjecture what it would be for a human life if we ever had to be responsible for that life. Human life is so dear that even accidental deaths were dealt with very seriously, in that the offender had to ‘run’ to a ‘City of Refuge’ lest the family lay hold of him. There in the City of Refuge he was to live out the remainder of his life. Outside of the city, the offender was subject to justice. A mans blood no matter what, cries from the ground.

    I’m sorry for continuing this, I should just go to bed. While I am a horrible ‘apologist’ please understand I hold you in the highest regard, and this is by no mean an attack on what you have written for it is very, very good, I am just attempting clarification. In all of that, you are very RIGHT to take your role as a juror seriously.

    • Hey bro, know this, first I don’t doubt your intent nor knowledge…we may differ a little on how we apply OT Law, but I say ‘little’ as a big word, our previous online conversations show we don’t differ too often. When it comes to the fathers of our nation, I have NO argument, and I should have pointed that out the first time. It’s not my area of study, so there is no way I would step in the ring on that…although, Sarah and I were pretty amazed at how many churches in Boston that stretch back to that time were in fact Unitarian Churches. Second, I have no reason to believe you are a follower of the Code of Hammurabi, I think that is obvious. Anyway, thinks for pushing back, and making me think…have a great day

  6. wow. this is by far the best and most thought-provoking post i’ve ever read. LOVE it! it totally challenged me and i’m sure i’ll be thinking and praying about this a lot lately. thanks for always kicking my spiritual tail!

  7. Hi Matt, I always love to read you…you give it both sides.
    I for one can tell you I’ve been on the “jury” side of justice, and I take it very serious, and always will. I do not try to escape it, do my best to persuade those serving w/ me to make the moral choice. If it had not been for my God ordained presence on the last jury, a drug dealing, gun waving “citizen” would have gotten off w/ little fine and maybe 2yrs time.
    Is it a fearful thing to think we act on the behalf of the Father of Justice? YES…but that is precisely why we as “kingdomites” walk among the living. We reveal the God of heaven in word and action…at least we should.
    I love to receive mercy..and always need it whether I recognize it or not.
    I ask , does mercy validate justice or vise/versa? how would we know? At the cross, was it mercy or justice? Why didn’t God just forgive our race w/out the supreme sacrifice? Yet it’s called the mercy of God and the justice of God. Justice is about righting the wrong, mercy is about w/holding the due response.
    It may be mercy to the offender…the murderer, but to those damaged by the event it is anything but.
    Narrow the field…you live on a small island w/ your lovely family…and this guy, plus a few others. Does he live and stay or go away? To lock him up places quite a restraint on all those present, for an undefined period of time. Now where is mercy…to everyone.
    I must say the OT means of justice seemed at times very barbaric, but still authored by the same God of mercy who walked among men in NT .Romans11:22…This verse has become pivotal for me in my journey of keeping God out of my “box”
    love you Matt

  8. Thanks for jumping in there Matt. I just want to say that I love discussing this stuff with you. The only thing missing from our conversations is something nice to drink, a roaring fireplace and the children playing about our feet. Too many people get so bent out of shape when discussing, we have really lost the art of discussing w/o emotional ties. It’s a skill you learn over a lifetime. You absolutely rock mah man!

    I know you wouldn’t not come to the assumption that I am a ‘code of Hammurabi’ follower, but when I re-read my post I thought that there might be readers that come into the conversation that may arrive at that conclusion, so I wanted to be sure to clarify that, just in case.

    We have seriously got to move closer together someday. If I didn’t mention it already, this was one of the bests posts I have read all year to get me to thinking. The other ‘best post’ that got me thinking this year was of course written by you also. 😉

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