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Was the Death Sentence Just?

What is justice?

A system of justice should always aim to right wrongs.  Good laws should be fairly implemented.  Crime needs to be impartially judged, not for the sake of revenge, but to stop the abhorrent behaviour from further harming society.  Punishment is one aspect of preventing crime.  I would offer that a more important aspect is that of rehabilitation.  In the Kingdom of God, no sinner is beyond the reach of the Almighty.

961653-63da4b34-a606-11e4-b988-694a6302ad1fOn that basis, I would like to make a few comments regarding the execution of my brothers, Andrew Chan and  Myuran Sukumaran.  There is no doubt that what they did was very wrong.  It needed to be punished.  Others needed to be deterred.  Punishment is effective when it stops the behaviour.  Ten years in a Balinese prison with no assurance of ever being released has been effective.  Beyond this point is excessive.

Indonesia is a sovereign state and as such creates its own laws and its own legal system.  That is how it should be.  A very significant problem occurs though when a combination of corruption and politics enter a legal system.  As I understand it, bribes heavily influence the judicial system in Indonesia and if the perpetrators had been prepared to pay a significant enough bribe early on, their sentence may have been far less harsh.  Additionally, the President, Joko Widodo, backed himself into a corner during his election campaign, sprouting a hard line against those on death row and a strong support for the death penalty.  The world view of Islam sees vengeance through death as normal and healthy.  This is in strong contrast to the Christian world view where Christ modelled mercy and forgiveness (Matthew 5:7, John 8:1-11) and where we are instructed in Romans 12 not to take revenge, because it belongs to God.  The President, with his faulty world view, reportedly didn’t consider pleas for clemency or even give any consideration as to what the most just outcome would be.

Compare this situation to the Bali Bombers which killed 202 people, 88 of which were Australians, and injured a further 209.  The three ringleaders were executed and the fourth was killed in a shoot out against Indonesian Police.  Well over 100 arrests were made and varying sentences and punishments were attributed to each according the the degree of their complicity.  The comparison?  When the four ringleaders were killed, they died with unrepentant hearts having made no positive contribution to society.  And in my mind, this is the basic problem with execution.

When a legal system takes murderous revenge on a criminal, it puts itself above God.  It robs that soul of the time given by God as He pursues and calls.  The flip side of that is that nothing catches God by surprise.

Amidst all this, the Kingdom of God advances.  Large numbers of Indonesians convert to Christianity every day.  There are already far more Christians in Indonesia than there are people in Australia.  Already, we are seeing change in the political systems.  It’s only a matter of time before the false god of Islam is overtaken.

aevgsaerWe are grateful that Andrew and Myuran accepted Christ’s righteousness very early into their sentence and God has given them a decade of great fruitfulness.  Now, they have experienced God’s justice.  When he accept His free gift of salvation, He justifies us – as if we had never sinned.

The pleas for clemency continued from family, Australian politicians and lawyers and others until the last moment.  The meaning of clemency is mercy.

Which of us does not need mercy?

Ever changing; Thy Kingdom come




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  1. Geoffrey Bullock says: April 29, 2015

    Jonathan – Here is a FB post from an Indonesian lady about the Bali 9 (unedited): “I am an Indonesian an I am not an extremist! I do not know what you are but I do not go to the mosque nor do I go to the hindu/budhist temple! Frankly I do not pity these men! I know first hand how drugs has destroyed the lives of my own relatives and killed some of our closed friends!! These friends of ours has tried to quit that only ends with a heart rest and he was only in his early twenties!!”
    The capital punishment issue is fraught with conflicting principles. A Christian view thereof is hard to find. However, we must balance all we do in this matter with the totality of God’s nature. Compassion and mercy must always be balanced by justice and righteousness, remembering that ‘mercy triumphs over judgement’ (only?) when repentance is granted and expressed. I like Ezekiel 18:23 as the condensed version of this: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? This is the declaration of the Lord. “Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives?” (Holman Bible) That becomes the starting place for Christian policy; but public policy can be quite different! Also, C S Lewis wrote an essay ‘The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” that deals with the idea of rehabilitation, mercy and justice. It is worth a look.

    • admin says: May 3, 2015

      Geoff I empathise with that lady’s anguish. My question in response is whether killing these two young men has made a difference with how many Indonesian abuse drugs.

      In forming a Christian view of capital punishment, I always keep in mind that David and Moses deserved the death penalty.

      I also keep in mind that when Jesus found a woman who was meant to be stoned to death under the law for the terrible sin she had committed, he said to go and not sin anymore.

      In this situation, I believe that the Christian response is that their repentance and sanctification was obvious to the whole world. The godly work they did bringing the Kingdom of God into that prison was extraordinary.

      At the end of the day, I think that the self-righteous people screaming for their death were people who didn’t know them and didn’t know how powerful mercy can be. We have all sinned and are far from the glory of God – but praise God for his free gift. God is all about giving us good things that we don’t deserve because of His love.

      • Geoffrey Bullock says: May 5, 2015

        Hi Jonathan – I’m with you in believing that return to Australia and a further prison sentence would have been better for the the two men. I did want you to realise that they may have contributed to the deaths of people from drug overdoses. ‘An eye for an eye’ (and no further) can apply here. Hence, I don’t believe you can say “When a legal system takes murderous revenge on a criminal, it puts itself above God.” God has appointed the government to ‘bear the sword’ (Romans 13:4 – an act that many good commentaries suggest is affirmation of Paul’s belief that there are acts worthy of death by governments. John Stott in his BST commentary on Romans (IVP 1994) writes: “Since the word for ‘sword’ (machaira) has occurred earlier in the letter to indicate death (8:35), and since it was used of execution (Acts 12:2; Rev 13:10), it seems Paul means it here as a symbol of capital punishment (p344).” He then quotes James Denney thus: “The sword was carried habitually, if not by, then before the higher magistrates, and symbolized the power of life and death which they had in their hands”. Similarly, James Edwards in his NIBC commentary (Hendrickson 1995) says: “But it seems to denote the right of capital punishment…” (p.308). See also Grant Osborne’s NTC (IVP 2004) comment: “So while ‘bear the sword’ primarily connotes the death sentence, it also generally describes the duty of the state to punish people who commit crimes in general” (p.345).

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