Cruel and Unusual Postponement
In February of 2006, the State of California postponed the execution of Michael Morales, who was sentenced to death for raping and murdering 17-year-old Terri Winchell — twenty-five years ago!
Questions were raised regarding the ethics of lethal injection. How can it be known whether or not Mr. Morales would feel pain during the administration of the lethal injection, after he has been anesthetized? And could this violate his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment?
The fact of the matter is, execution has never been more painless. But more importantly, according to the sole moral authority on the matter (that would be God, by the way), “Thine eye shall not pity him” (Deuteronomy 19:13).
The law of Moses perpetuated in Israel the universal principle laid down by God in Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Because life made in the image of God is sacred, the only just punishment is the execution of the murderer.
Two points regarding the murderer are in order:
First, it was supposed that someone guilty of murder might flee to a city of refuge in Israel and claim a killing was unintentional. The cities of refuge (Numbers 35; Deuteronomy 19:1-13; Joshua 20-21) were not designed for murderers to escape punishment. Today, the refuge of legal appeals seems to be without end.
Second, the application of these laws of punishment facilitated social stability in Israel and secured divine blessings — “that it may go well with thee” (Deuteronomy 19:13). Eight times in Deuteronomy the incentive for conformity to God’s laws regarding homicide was stated: “that it may go well with thee,” or “that it may be well with thee.”
The people would incur guilt if injustice was tolerated. Therefore, they were commanded, “Thine eye shall not pity him [the murderer], but thou shalt put away the innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee” (Deuteronomy 19:13). The scales of justice would remain woefully out of balance as long as the innocent blood remained in the land (i.e., when either murder or manslaughter was overlooked).
It is sad when murderers receive more pity than those who are slaughtered at their whims. No wonder Solomon declared, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set on them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
Murder did not become illegal at Sinai (cf. Genesis 9:6), nor did it cease from being a crime when the law of Moses was nailed to the cross. Murder is wrong because of the nature of the offense. While the nation of Israel was obligated to pursue criminal matters, today God authorizes civil authorities in the administration of justice (cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 1:8-10).
It is erroneous to argue against capital punishment on the basis that God said, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). The “theologians” who gather at the gates of San Quentin to display their protest signs till midnight ought to consider the distinction made in scripture between murder and manslaughter. Innocent life is not truly valued when people call for the life of a murderer to be spared. Tragically, the blood of Abel cries from the ground daily.
Life is precious. Innocent blood demands justice because human beings are made in the image of God. This timeless principle is unabashedly ignored by those who argue for a woman’s “right to choose” to kill her unborn, unwanted, and unloved baby; by those who work for the right to doctor-prescribed murder (i.e., euthanasia); and by many who mistakenly protest against the implementation of “the sword” (cf. Romans 13:4) in punishing murderers.
Human life is precious, and any society that fails to value life, made in the image of God, is filling the cup of providential wrath ever closer to the brim.
God is the author of life. He alone has the right to say when a life should be terminated. At times, he struck people down whose rebellion required it — in both miraculous and providential ways. God alone possessed the right to authorize Israel to drive out the heathen from Canaan, whose iniquity had become full. God solely has the right to give to civil powers the authority for capital punishment.
Moral authority regarding life and death issues belongs to God. When he is excused from the debate, life’s practical value experiences an immediate downturn.
An entire society is blessed wherein life is valued as sacred. When life is esteemed so are the principles of justice, mercy, fair deliberation for the accused, protection of the defenseless, and equal treatment under the law — just as Israel’s refuge policy was available to Israelite, foreigner, and sojourner alike (Numbers 35:15).
What is cruel and unusual about the Morales case is the injustice to Terry Winchell and her family, and to our society as a whole, as her innocent blood remains in the land.