Viewpoint: God v. Cain in Old Testament court

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In his letter this week to Delaware legislators urging them to support the repeal of the state’s death penalty, Bishop Malooly wrote, “There is a growing consciousness in our modern society that there is something wrong in using the death penalty to discourage crime and violence.”

That’s close to the heart of the capital punishment issue for me: How is it that governments kill people who have murdered to demonstrate it’s wrong to commit murder?

Without reference to holding all human life sacred at all its stages or to the concept of God’s mercy that Pope Francis has been emphasizing, the logic of continuing the fatal violence cycle, killing someone for the crime of murder, doesn’t compute for me.

Logic, however, is useless when considering a murder victim’s family and friends facing the tragedy of losing a loved one as a result of a premeditated murder.

“The Fratricide,” by artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela. (Wikimedia Commons)
“The Fratricide,” by artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela. (Wikimedia Commons)

Surely, murder is the sin which cries the loudest to God for justice.

Of course, the church stands with the families of murder victims in compassion and support amidst their feelings of loss, despair and their quest for justice.

Separating justice from revenge is the difficulty for all of us, especially when considering the devastating loss faced by murder victims’ loved ones.

When people are struck down by criminals, it’s not easy to remember that in the first murder described in the Bible, Cain killing his brother Abel, God does not turn to vengeance to strike down Cain.

The Book of Genesis reveals that Cain was cursed by God to wander the desert for his crime. After Cain protests to God that he will be killed by others for his sin of fratricide, we read, “The Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one would kill him on sight.”

So the “mark of Cain” is a sign of God’s loving mercy for a killer condemned to be isolated from the community but not to be executed.

St. John Paul II addressed God’s justice in dealing with Cain in his encyclical “The Gospel of Life” (Evangelium Vitae). He wrote that God protected Cain “from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to avenge Abel’s death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.”

God was merciful in his punishment of the first murderer mentioned in the Old Testament.

No wonder the church preaches the sacred dignity of all human life, all people, even killers.

No wonder Bishop Malooly wrote to Delaware lawmakers this week that the “ultimate challenge to any society is the preservation and sanctity of life, all life, each life.”

To help stop capital punishment’s cycle of violence, to help diminish our culture’s attraction to death, to uphold the sacredness of all human life, we should follow Bishop Malooly’s lead and urge Delaware’s lawmakers to repeal the death penalty in the First State.

Ryan is editor/general manager of The Dialog.