Although I admit I’m not always successful at it, I really do try to be consistent in my thinking and doing. When, for instance, Scripture enjoins I not indulge in icy-blooded glee over another’s distress, I attempt compliance. Proverbs 24:17 cautions, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles”. Apparently the Creator takes a dim view of schadenfreude — so I try to avoid it.
That said, when evildoers are dealt what they deserve? It can be tough not to feel something approximating satisfaction. And is that really so scandalously unacceptable?
The biblical counterpoint to the no-gloating prohibition is outlined a few chapters earlier in Proverbs:
“[W]hen the wicked perish, there is joyful shouting” (11:10). Holy Writ acknowledges: there’s reason for some measure of widespread gratification when bad guys get their comeuppance.
Which brings me to the matter of white-supremacist Dylann Roof: sentenced to death days ago for the 2015 massacring of nine African-American, South Carolinian churchgoers. The twenty-two-year-old’s guilt is blinding; beyond self-evident; he’s offered paltry defense of his innocence, expressed zero remorse for the atrocity. No doubt about it, Roof has earned the ultimate criminal sanction; in spades.
Thus, when news broke a jury had determined he should be executed, I experienced a reflexive surge of approval; and mild surprise. It’s hardly a given, after all, that today’s American justice system will stand up on its hind legs and perform its duty toward those who’ve forfeited the right to live among civilized folk; or, for that matter, to live at all.
Instead, the dreary pattern is repeated too frequently: premeditated killers, mass murderers, serial rapists, predatory pedophiles? They’re convicted of their respective outrages — and proceed to live out their days on the public dime. “Three hots and a cot”, time in the weight room and fresh air of the exercise yard, penitentiary-supplied television, movies and other entertainments, visitation and/or correspondence from loved ones and warped prison-inmate groupies; for decades on end.
Meantime, for the victims? Or just workaday, sentient, law-abidingly decent human beings observing all this? A nagging intuition lingers that something’s flatly malodorous about this arrangement.
With the pronouncement of Roof’s soon-to-be-terminal fate, anti-death penalty hanky-twisting predictably bubbled up, even though it’s, bluntly, a pretty straightforward proposition: the young man purposefully perpetrated a capital offense; he should draw the capital penalty for it. Is that a decision that should be arrived at glibly or frivolously? Never. It’s a grave choice, every time; That doesn’t render it a complicated one.
Contrary to contemporary Liberal-squish mythology, the U.S. Constitution/Bill of Rights don’t quibble with the aptness of capital punishment in certain instances: the fifth amendment brackets its application, but in no way bans it. USConstitution.net sums up: a person “may not be executed … without proper indictment, trial, and conviction.”
Happily, and more importantly, the Charleston jurors also line up with God’s attitude on the unwarranted taking of a human life: Millennia past, he established life-for-life as a rock-bottom, civilizational standard (Genesis 9:6). In Romans 13, the apostle clarifies government (that would include the courts) is intended a fearsome “terror … to evil [works] … bear[ing] the sword” to that end; “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”
Yes, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19) — but obviously He delegates a chunk of that vengeance-taking to the agencies of, not hot-headed, vigilante action, but official law-enforcement/penal authorities.
That’s how things are supposed to work. That they commonly don’t roll out that way ought to profoundly disturb any citizen solicitous of peaceable social functioning, God’s order, justice.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson revealed that Roof
has shown a complete lack of remorse for his actions … continued to write “racist filth” since his arrest, bragging in a jailhouse journal that he hadn’t shed a single tear for those he killed … continued to decorate his shoes with white supremacist symbols … wearing the shoes to the very courtroom where his victims’ families sat awaiting …
“You have seen nothing to indicate this defendant shows the possibility of meaningful change or redemption,” Richardson surmised.
Of course, on a ruthlessly bottom-line level, all of the prosecutor’s chilling commentary is superfluous. The malignant Roof lawlessly cut short the lives of nine human beings; QED; case closed; his death-chamber appointment undeniably is warranted. From an unapologetically tactical perspective, it makes sense leaving no damning stone unturned, playing every condemnatory card which might guarantee a guilty verdict and befitting retribution. Still, strictly speaking, the malevolent moment Roof pulled that trigger? He joined the exclusive fit-for-the-prison-needle fraternity. Emotionally plucking — or in Richardson’s case, remorselessly scraping — the courtroom’s (and the general public’s) heartstrings might have served a pragmatic purpose; but it shouldn’t be necessary.
I’m reminded of another ghoul, Richard Allen Davis, 1993 murderer of twelve-year-old Polly Klass. Some court-watchers, chary of Davis’ death sentence, were suddenly indignant when he lobbed a double-fisted obscene gesture after the verdict’s reading. Rush Limbaugh pungently reflected: for some people, seemingly, the kidnapping and strangulation of a seventh-grade girl weren’t sufficient justification by themselves for this creep’s elimination. His boorish courthouse behavior was the final straw?
I believe it was historian David Barton who’s relayed the account of a founding-era judge who, issuing a death sentence to a particular malefactor, next urged the doomed man to return to his cell and spend the night getting right with his Maker — repenting, seeking forgiveness through the merits of Christ’s death, preparing for his impending and judicially enforced demise. Clearly, “Your Honor” got it: though the individual’s crime demanded lethal, court-authorized reprisal, that didn’t necessarily mean Heaven’s mercies were exhausted for the wretch. And neither crass giddiness nor weak-kneed sentimentality clouded the magistrate’s rulings.
It’s an approach, alas, that wasn’t altogether honored by Christian media personalities Jerry Falwell, Sr. and Pat Robertson back in the 1990s when they lobbied against the execution of pickaxe-murderess Karla Faye Tucker . Following her dramatic born-again experience in prison, Tucker had become “totally transformed“, “the most beautiful Christian woman we had encountered.” (Robertson). In fact, indicators are the former drug addict really had undergone a thoroughgoing jailhouse conversion and would be enjoying eternity with the two Reverends one day — which, mind you, is glaringly beside the point. Karla Faye Tucker participated in the inhuman, 1983 slaughter of a man and woman. Making her pay with her own life? Legally and morally requisite.
You see, earthly justice imposed upon the culpable doesn’t preclude forgiveness from victims, victims’ families or God. Reportedly, echoes of that otherworldly paradox have been in evidence in the Dylann Roof aftermath where, astonishingly, “[f]amily members of those who were shot to death … called upon [the] gunman … to turn to Christ … as he was formally sentenced to death for his crimes.”
The Judge of the Universe’s solution to man’s depravity includes accountability for evildoers, but also the possibility of redemption for even the worst, if they’ll face up to their wickedness before Him. Along the way, those valuing what is right can derive some pleasure from either option; or both; rejecting gratuitously vindictive sentiments but squirming when society-preserving justice is delayed or denied. All this, while grieving these divine prescriptions are needed only because men yield to darkness.
Image: Screen shot; https://www.yahoo.com/news/dylann-roof-face-death-penalty-225008920.html