Letter to Chuck ColsonJuly 17, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
A while back, Mike Prichard at Zondervan contacted me and invited me to participate in an online exchange with Chuck Colson regarding Colson’s recent book, The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters. I believe other non-Christian bloggers were also invited to participate, though as far as I know, The Atheist Experience is the only other blog besides mine to take them up on their offer. Since Colson has just published his reply to The Atheist Experience, I expect he’ll be responding to my post shortly, so I thought I’d go ahead and publish my questions. (I’ve kept my note to Colson fairly short, in hopes of encouraging a more back-and-forth dialog.) The full text of my email to Colson is below the fold.
Dear Mr. Colson,
Thank you for inviting me to discuss your book The Faith. There are certainly a number of interesting issues there which we could discuss. Perhaps we could start with the topic of the sanctity of life versus the death penalty.
My first question is this: when you say “sanctity of life,” or better yet, when the Bible says “sanctity of life,” which life is being referred to: physical mortal life, or the imperishable life of the immortal soul, as taught by Christians?
Secondly, towards the end of your book, you tell how you once met John Gacy, and how it changed you from an opponent of capital punishment to a reluctant supporter in some circumstances. While I can understand your feelings, and can certainly agree that the Bible does indeed condone capital punishment (even for such trivial offenses as gathering wood on a Saturday), I wonder whether capital punishment is indeed a proper Christian response in the light of the sanctity of life. You mention that you have come to see capital punishment as vindicating the sanctity of life, by requiring (as Moses required) life for life. But while that is indeed perfectly understandable, is that the answer Jesus would have given?
I’m reminded of the story in John 8 of the woman taken in adultery, another capital offense in Moses’ day. Jesus did not deny that she deserved to die, however his response was at once just and merciful: “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” He, of course, did not follow his own advice, since he was among them and did not cast any stones, but the point remains. Would it not equally affirm the sanctity of life to let God take the sinner’s life when He judges the time to be ripe? As it says in Rom. 12:19, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
I’m not saying that capital punishment is necessarily always wrong, but it just seems to me that it would be more in harmony with the letter and the spirit of the Gospel to judge sinners according to the law, but to leave capital punishment in God’s hands, for the sake of the sanctity of life. What do you think?