Last night Tonya and I watched one of those dreaded Lifetime Movie Network movies. I use the word “dreaded” because the Lifetime Movie Network isn’t typically associated with wholesome. As best I can tell, the channel is run by women who pretty much think that every man is an adulterer, bully, spouse abuser, or serial killer. In the movie we watched, the guy was a serial killer.
Actually, the movie was based on the true-life story of Gary Ridgway, the infamous Green River killer. On November 5, 2003, Ridgway entered a guilty plea to 48 charges of aggravated first degree murder. That was a plea bargain deal that allowed him to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to 48 life sentences to be served consecutively with no possibility of parole. He also received an additional 10 years for tampering with the evidence in each of the killings. That added another 480 years to his 48 life sentences. As part of the deal, he agreed to help the police locate the bodies of many other missing girls. That is what spared his life.
No one, perhaps not even Ridgway himself, knows how many young women he actually killed. He was convicted of the 48 murders, but he confessed to as high as 71 in police interviews following his plea bargain. It is generally presumed, though, that the number was much higher, perhaps over 90.
If we had it to do over again, I don’t think Tonya and I would watch the movie. As the closing credits were rolling, I said to her, “I feel like I need a shower and a brillo pad.” You know, it was just one of those seemingly harmless situations. Tonya had recorded the movie on DVR a few weeks ago because she thought it sounded interesting. She asked me if I wanted to watch it with her. Then once you get started with it, you kind of want to see how it ends. I had heard the name Gary Ridgway before and I knew he was a serial killer, but I didn’t know he was the subject of that movie. I thought it was just one of those fictional Lifetime pieces that majors on melodrama and bad acting.
Anyway, what I took from the movie was that Gary Ridgway should have been executed. No plea bargain deal should have been offered. In the end, he only lead police to three more bodies. While I realize that finding those bodies was of incalculable value to the families, if you are going to have capital punishment at all you must carry it out on the likes of Ridgway. He is sitting in the Washington State Prison in Walla, Walla Washington right now, while the decomposing remains of so many of his victims still lie in unmarked graves around the cities of Seattle and Tacoma.
A lot of people don’t like the whole notion of the death penalty, but it is definitely a Bible teaching. Just as God sanctions human government, He sanctions capital punishment being administered through human governments. We see this in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
It all begins in Genesis 9:1-6. Not long after Noah and his family climbed off the ark, God said to them, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed. For in the image of God He made man.”
Centuries later, when it came time for God to give His law to Moses and the Israelites, He built the death penalty into that law by way of passages such as Exodus 21:12-17. Under that law, offenses such as murder, rape, incest, sodomy, witchcraft, adultery, blasphemy, and even disobedience to parents were considered capital punishment crimes. I’m not suggesting that all of these offenses should still carry the death penalty. I’m simply pointing out some of the specifics of that Old Testament law that God gave to Israel.
It should be understood that the law required at least two witnesses for those crimes and the punishment was to be carried out through what could be called Israel’s government. The point is, no Israelite was to take the law into his own hands. The death penalty was only administered through proper avenues. This understanding of how capital punishment should work still applies today.
Obviously, it helps if one’s legal system is fair, honest, and godly. If a legal system isn’t those things, then the administering of the death penalty can sometimes become questionable. That’s where we are today in America. But there is nothing wrong with the basic concept of the death penalty. It is a Bible concept, and Gary Ridgway was certainly a candidate for it.
I say that because of two passages from the New Testament. The first one is Romans 13:1-7, which says:
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
In these verses, rulers and governing authorities are described as being the instruments through which evil people are put to death. That’s what verse 4 means when it says the governing authority doesn’t bear the sword in vain. It’s also why verse 7 speaks of rendering fear to the authority. Verse 3 calls rulers a terror to evil works. Verse 4 says if you do evil, be afraid. It also calls the ruler or governing authority “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” All of this plainly speaks of God-sanctioned, government-administered capital punishment.
The second passage is 1 Peter 2:13-14. These verses say:
“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.”
Again, the teaching is that the rulers or governing authorities have the God-sanctioned role of the “punishment of evildoers.” That punishment can be the death penalty, if the situation warrants it. And if it didn’t warrant it in the case of Gary Ridgway, it can’t be warranted in any case. That’s what I took from that movie.