If God Is So Pro-Death Penalty, What About Cain and Abel?

If God Is So Pro-Death Penalty, What About Cain and Abel? January 11, 2017

Screenshot 2017-01-11 08.39.17
(c) Bible Stories, the murder of Abel, via Youtube

Yesterday Dylann Roof, the shooter of the Charleston Massacre faced a jury of his peers to hear his fate– life, or capital punishment.

The fate decided? Death.

I spoke out against this decision (as I do all executions), saying, “The Charleston Massacre was absolute evil — but adding Dylann Roof’s name to the list of casualties makes the world more broken, not less.”

I have been a consistent and vocal opponent of the death penalty, and I firmly believe that Christians– especially those of us who believe that God spared us from the ultimate death penalty– should be the first in line to oppose this barbaric practice (and here’s 5 specific reasons why). As Christians we are called to be voices of mercy, and voices who never stop telling the world about the awesome power of God and its ability to change and transform even the most hardened human heart.

Inevitably, many American Christians push back when I make public statements condemning the death penalty or publicly plead for mercy on behalf of the condemned. Time and time again, I see the same comment: “But God himself established the death penalty!” (As if the existence and regulation of something in the Old Testament means we’re supposed to practice and celebrate it for all time and in all cultures… wait, why don’t you guys believe that with polygamy? Slavery? Oh, never mind.)

For me, this all invites questions. Conservative Evangelicals have long told me that if we want to see God’s best, God’s original intent, than we need to go back to Genesis and use that as our standard. They do that with polygamy or same sex marriage *all* day long. The argument becomes: “It doesn’t matter that God conceded and later regulated some practices he hates. We need to look at the original plan in the Garden of Eden.”

If that’s true, here’s my question:

If God is so pro-death penalty, why did he blow it so quickly? I mean, you don’t have to read far into the Bible before we arrive on a murder scene– we have a case of jealousy and domestic violence that ended in homicide right on the first few pages. Especially for the Ken Ham types, this murder would be considered the first murder in all human history.

So, God is super pro-death penalty, right? The first person to murder in God’s story got what they had coming to them, right?

Let’s be honest: If God wanted to make it crystal clear that the penalty for murder should be death, I would *imagine* he would want to send us that message right from the start, and set a very, very clear example for us so that we don’t get confused about his position on the matter.

So, did the first murderer in the Bible face execution for his premeditated crime?

No– not at all. If God is super pro-death penalty, the Biblical story opens with a God who I don’t recognize.

God’s punishment for the first premeditated murder in his story was banishment from the community (Gen 4:10), and wasn’t the death penalty at all. But here’s where things get really interesting: The next few verses actually do mention the death penalty, and Cain tells God that he’s afraid that people will put him to death (4:13).

Modern synopsis:
God: “You need to leave town, like right now. And don’t come back to these parts.”
Cain: “But I’m a murderer! They’re going to arrest me and hang me!”

Does God reply like an conservative evangelical on the internet? Does he shrug his shoulders and say, “Sorry, but you committed premeditated murder”? or, “Well, what you did was evil and you need to pay the price”?

God actually does the opposite: God warns any would-be executioner that if they kill Cain, however justified they may feel in doing so, they would face the vengeance of God seven times over (v.15).

Modern synopsis:
God: “You need to leave town, like right now. And don’t come back to these parts.”
Cain: “But I’m a murderer! They’re going to arrest me and hang me!”
God: “I’ll tell you what, anyone who does that to you will be facing a punishment seven times worse when I get my hands on them.”

In this story the murderer is punished, but the wrath of God– multiplied times seven– is actually towards anyone who would attempt to carry out the death penalty.

I’m sorry, but this doesn’t sound like a super pro-death penalty God to me. I mean, it was premeditated murder, no question of guilt, and instead of prescribing execution, God warns everyone else that they had better not execute the man.

You can have differing views on the death penalty, but there’s no getting around the fact that the first premeditated murderer we find in the Bible is not only spared the death penalty, but instead, God goes out of his way to warn people not to execute him.

So, back to my question: If God is so pro-death penalty, why didn’t he make an example of the first murderer so we’d all be super clear as to his position? Why did he give mercy instead, along with a warning that he would punish anyone who thinks they have the right to be an executioner?

unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com. 

Be sure to check out his new blog, right here, and follow on Facebook:

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