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Matt Idom Headshot

Texas, the Death Penalty, and the Will of God

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Regarding the murder trial that has dominated our local print and broadcast news, a reporter writes in the local newspaper, "[J]urors will be asked to answer two questions: Is [the defendant] a continuing threat to society? And are there any mitigating circumstances that warrant sparing his life?"

The headline over the article read "Guilty of Murder." That was contested by neither the defense nor the news. We knew that, thank you. Guilt has never been the question in this trial. The case has been built around the final outcome and ultimate sentencing of one who admitted to committing murder.

Mitigating circumstances? I've read carefully the articles covering the trial and the unwarranted deaths of two beautiful young adults. The defense has worked deliberately to set the stage to suggest that there are indeed mitigating circumstances that would eliminate the death penalty as an option. Their success will mean life in prison with no parole. The prosecution, on the other hand, delivered to the jury an equally compelling argument that no circumstances would warrant anything other than capital punishment.

And now twelve people will weigh that question of "mitigating circumstances" within the boundaries of Texas law and, in a short time, render a decision.

But what if capital punishment was not an option? What if the death penalty was not on the table?

In such a case, where guilt was confessed and "easily" proven, there would have been fewer days in the court and a concise judgment rendered, followed by an equally decisive punishment. I can only assume that what this trial is really about is the death penalty.

I can't help myself; it is the "Christian" in me, so maybe you will forgive me my opinion, but I do not believe that capital punishment belongs in our world. I believe we are all measured not by mitigating circumstances but by grace.

Could you imagine, as each of us faced the jurors of eternity, if we had to come up with our list of mitigating circumstances? "You see, God, that dump-truck full of sin that I committed on those given days were actions and decisions that were influenced by mitigating circumstances. I'm sure you will understand."

When standing before the judgment throne, will any circumstance ever exist that warrants my ultimate forgiveness, or will I be saved by grace alone? And if I conclude that I am saved by grace alone, then how can I knowingly participate in any action that would deny another, no matter how guilty or vile, that same measure of grace?

Victims are compelling, especially those left behind in grief. We are right to scream for justice on their behalf. I would want the rafters to explode with the demands of justice if it were my children. There is no more precious altar in my life. But even my love for them cannot overshadow God's love for me or God's love for the one who commits the crime. And as much as I wish I could persuade God to deny his love to people that kill other people, I cannot. My pain and suffering can never outweigh God's desires or neutralize God's ultimate will portrayed through the atonement. The cross is still the cross.

The arguments of "crime determent" and "continuing threat to society" are masked justifications for a human response to justice, not a divine one. Assuaged by opinion polls and election viability, our state legislators and governor defend capital punishment as a just and moral response.

Thankfully for all humanity, God is not so easily persuaded.

And as we continue to slosh our way through a proverbial "dark age" of understanding and humanity in Texas with regards to our passion for the death penalty, all the mitigating circumstances of our lives will never be able to convince this God of grace otherwise.