Sunday, November 22, 2015

Things Aren't Always As They Seem

"Thou shalt not kill" is perhaps the most well known of the ten commandments. This commandment has crossed over into pop culture showing up in movies and television. Characters say this phrase and a lot of us know what it means. Or at least we think we know what it means. I thought it meant you shall not kill under any circumstances, including war and capital punishment. But what if I told you the wording of this commandment was dependent on which translation of the bible you were reading? What if that commandment read "you shall not murder"? Does that change anything?

The New International Version (NIV) translation uses the term murder, not kill. Murder generally refers to a crime, whereas killing is an act which may or may not be a crime. This distinction complicates my understanding of this commandment, as it does not fully close the door on killing. Does that mean that killing in the context of war, self-defense or capital punishment are acceptable in the eyes of God? When we met in the boardroom at Grace Baptist Church a few Sundays back, we discussed capital punishment from a Christian perspective. We discussed the story of Kelly Gissendaner who admitted to recruiting her lover to murder her husband and was executed in Georgia. Mrs. Gissendaner's story is unique as during her incarceration she not only accepted Jesus as her savior, but also developed her own ministry at the prison. Many who knew Gissendaner claimed her conversion was genuine and over 500 members of the clergy, including Pope Francis, pleaded with the authorities to spare her life. Imagine hearing these appeals and being in the position of deciding her fate.

As with most issues, there is no easy solution. In our discussion, we started with looking at whether a murderer could be forgiven and saved. We discovered this is a broader question of whether a sinner can be forgiven and saved. Man, not God, ranked murder above adultery, stealing and the other commandments. If you look back at the commandments in the book of Exodus, there is no specification of one sin being worse than another. We know, no matter how hard we try, we sin and that Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins. Jesus gave us the path to salvation and all we have to do is accept him in our hearts. Jesus explained this in John, chapter 8 when a woman accused of adultery was presented. Jesus advised for any among them without sin to cast the first stone. No stones were cast and Jesus told the woman to go and leave her life of sin. Christianity is about inclusion and acceptance of everyone, regardless of their sins. Therefore, it stands to reason murderers can absolutely be forgiven and saved.

That is wonderful news, but it does not help with guiding the decision on sparing Mrs. Gissendaner's life. Salvation does not mean the consequences are taken away. We know right and wrong and, perhaps more importantly, we know there are consequences to our actions. In the New Testament, there are some references to consequences including in Romans 13 where Paul tells us to obey the laws or face the consequences. Some have interpreted this language to support capital punishment. Paul doesn't directly endorse specific laws, but does make the point we should be subject to the governing authorities as they are God's servants and can bring punishment on the wrongdoer. In the case of Mrs. Gissendaner, she was subject to the laws of Georgia which resulted in her execution.
We may not all agree on capital punishment. What I hope we can agree on is that all people, regardless of their sins, can be saved if they choose to accept Jesus. No matter how far we feel we have strayed, God never strays from us. We hope to see you next time at 9:30 AM in the boardroom at Grace Baptist Church. God Bless.

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