A Commentary by James A Graves, Jr.
“Rest in Peace.” It is a sentiment seen on headstones, likely selected by a grieving family member as a final wish for a departed loved one. And in an effort to comfort the friends and loved ones that were left behind, there will be kind expressions of reassurance like, “Try to find comfort in the blessing that their troubles are finally over. There is no more pain, no more grief, no more worries – the daily toil of living mercifully replaced by peaceful and eternal slumber.”
When I hear that a convicted murderer has been executed, I think of those sayings and expressions and wonder how the law of the land came to the conclusion that capital punishment, the death penalty, is a sufficient punishment for the crime of murder.
Certainly there is precedent for executing convicted murders. Many argue that the Bible says, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” And that statement does have some validity, unfortunately, it is quoting the Old Testament somewhat out of context.
Exodus 21, part of the many Commandments given to Moses (along with the big 10) is the source of the “eye for an eye…” law, but the death penalty directive encompasses a lot of crimes;
Exodus 21:12”Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death.”
21:14 ”But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.”
21:15 “Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death.”
21:16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.”
21:17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.”
21:22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Hence the origin of “an eye for an eye”.
It is apparent that God is deadly serious about the Commandments that He handed down to Moses, especially concerning the 5th; “Honor your father and mother” and the 6th; “You shall not murder.” And He is also very protective of pregnant women and unborn babies. (Those in favor of abortion would be wise to take note of that)
If we followed God’s laws from Exodus to the letter today, there would be a whole lot more executions, including some people who are disrespectful to their parents, and pregnant women who choose to kill their unborn child, as well as their abortionist. Executions would need to be carried out on a daily basis just to keep up.
However, since modern lawmakers have chosen to ignore some of God’s laws, the “eye for an eye” prosecution philosophy no longer holds water.
There is also conflicting Bible verses that add a challenging debate to the eye-for-an-eye command; Deuteronomy 32, The Song of Moses, verse 35 is the first verse to state God’s preference; “Vengeance is Mine…”
Romans 12, Dedicated Service, verse 19 says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Also, Hebrews 10, One Sacrifice of Christ is Sufficient, verse 30; For we know Him who said, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.”
So, are we to execute murderers based on God’s commandments in Exodus, or leave vengeance to the Lord as stated in Deuteronomy?
Humans have become more civilized over the centuries. We’re kinder, gentler and more forgiving these days (in the courts anyway), so it’s understandable why some countries and legal systems have elected to leave vengeance to the Lord and dropped most of the Biblical “put to death” laws.
But then, why does the death penalty continue to be in force in many nations and US states?
And, perhaps more importantly, if death truly does bring peace and eternal rest, is it really punishment to execute someone?
Mark Twain said, "How hard it is that we have to die — a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.”
Twain’s point being that living is not easy, and for many, life is truly hard, yet, it is the knowledge of our mortality that seems to cause the most dread, despite the commonly held belief that death brings restful peace and the end of pain and misery.
As Maurice Maeterlinck said, “All our knowledge merely helps us to die a more painful death than animals that know nothing.”
In other words, ignorance is bliss. But, in reality, it is the lack of knowledge of what happens after death that causes people so much fear of dying. It’s the fear of the unknown.
However, Samuel Butler said, “To himself everyone is immortal; he may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead.”
I have to wonder how Butler knows that for a fact, but it is possible that, after our death, we may not know that we have died. Even though our eternal soul lives on, we may not care that we are no longer a mortal being.
If this is true, then how can execution be punishment?
One could argue that the only ones actually being punished is the family of the executed criminal.
Perhaps the only suffering that could qualify as punishment for the crime of murder is the period between the moment the murderer is condemned to die and the day set for the execution – the period of time that the condemned knows, for a fact, how long they have to live.
Although, depending on a person’s philosophy, knowing the day and time might not matter.
As Euripides said, “Death is a debt we all must pay.”
Some readily accept that fact and do not fear dying.
And, assuming common beliefs are held, suffering or not while waiting for the end to come, after the execution a murderer’s problems are theoretically over.
Socrates said, “Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.”
And that could very well be true.
George Bernard Shaw said, “Death is for many of us the gate of hell; but we are inside on the way out, not outside on the way in.”
Consequently, by ending their daily suffering and setting them free, executing a convicted murder may actually be doing that person a favor instead of inflicting punishment.
It seems to me that instead of carrying out the benevolent punishment of executing convicted murders, the most effective punishment would be to sentence a murderer to life in prison, but not the modern version of a life sentence, incorporating all of the humanitarian comforts dictated by bleeding heart liberals.
Instead, the sentence should be what was once termed, “life in prison at hard labor”.
A sentence of life in prison for premeditated murder should include these conditions:
1. Housing and food must be earned by physical labor six days a week.
2. Diet strictly regulated - food and water only. No sweets, no snacks.
3. Isolated housing, with minimum contact with other inmates except convicted murderers.
4. No visitors and no mail. After all, their victims and families do not have that luxury.
5. No recreation - physical labor and daily exercise.
6. No TV, no radio, no computer access, no magazines, newspapers, or books, except religious literature.
7. Must attend religious services of some type on the non-workday each week.
8. On that day, the prisoner is to be reminded of the crime they committed and why the sentence was life in prison at hard labor.
10. Each prisoner would require constant monitoring to ensure that suicide is not an option.
11. Any infraction of established prison rules results in severe punishment.
12. However, labor to earn food and housing must continue.
13. No work - no regular diet (bread, water and dietary supplements only)
14. And no bed – must sleep on issued bed linen, but on the floor until acceptable behavior is resumed.
Unfortunately, “Hard labor” was determined many years ago to be inhumane and subsequently eliminated.
Oddly enough, execution, apparently not inhumane, was kept.
And execution may not be inhumane if death is truly an end to suffering.
I believe that a convicted murderer, living in miserable conditions that will remain the same until death from natural causes, constantly reminded that their crime is the reason for their incarceration, is true punishment.
As Norman Cousins, a terminally ill American journalist, said, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
©2017 James A Graves, Jr.