It’s a little strange, all the hand wringing going on in Sioux Falls this week over the execution of Elijah Page. It was scheduled for last night, and they went through with it. No last minute reprieve, no last minute change of mind. But also no last words & no apologies to the victim’s family. He was pronounced dead at 10:11 last night.
Page was convicted and sentenced to death in 2002 for his part in the murder of Chester Poage near Spearfish, SD. In 2005, Page fired his lawyer and dropped his appeals to stay his execution or have his sentence commuted to life; essentially giving up and wanting to commit state-sponsored suicide. The execution was scheduled for August of 2006, but got delayed on a technicality. Having that technicality now sorted out, the state is once again ready to pull Page’s plug, so to speak.
I guess I’ve never really had much concern over the death penalty. It’s been part of human civilization for centuries, and when properly administered, I think it works as a good deterrent to serious crime. But there are times I have trouble with the death penalty, when there are questions about the guilt of the condemned. But in Page’s case, he’s admitted to what he did, what he did was beyond horrible, and even he agrees that the death penalty is his just desserts.
Part of me says that Page’s punishment fits his crime, so let’s just get it over with and put it behind us. But another part of me says, “Not so fast.” And that part of me seems to be in agreement with the people who are doing the most hand wringing this week. They tend to be a very vocal group, acting as self-appointed consciences for those don’t oppose the death penalty or are ambivalent. What I find curious is that the vast majority of that very vocal group tend to be just as strident in their support of keeping the practice of abortion legal in the US.
There seems to be an amazing disconnect in these people; they will bend over backward in support of “a woman’s right to choose”. They say that what a woman does with her body is her business, and since that unborn baby is inside her body, she can decide what to do with it. Period. Anybody disagreeing with what she does with her body is worse than… well just really bad. The abortion doesn’t harm anybody else in the process, they tell us, so why should anybody bother? And besides, they say, everybody knows that bringing an unwanted life into the world is just cruel — just look at how bad things are — we’re doing this kid a favor by putting it out of its misery before the misery starts. And as for any rights that the baby might have, “pish posh,” they say. “What rights?”
What I’d like to ask these people is how that differs — aside from the obvious — from Elijah Page’s situation. Page wants to end his life… It’s his body, so what he does with it is his business. Nobody else is harmed by his wish to be put to death being fulfilled. Besides, he is guilty — by his own admission — of crimes that the State of South Dakota says are worthy of the death penalty.
In Page’s case, I’d like to say, let’s get it over with, but I hesitate. I personally know the forgiveness offered through Christ’s sacrifice, and I pray that Elijah Page has had a chance to learn of that forgiveness — and if not, that he’ll have that opportunity soon. A deathbed conversion does have a place in Christianity, and has good Biblical support; consider Jesus’ comments to the thief hanging on the cross next to his. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”Luke 23:43.
We as humans like to categorize our sins, rank them according to our perception of their severity and how many sins we’ve committed, then compare our standing on that scale to others. And to some it makes sense to try to counterbalance their sins with the good things — anti-sins. But the problem is that our own categories and our own rankings are not God’s. We don’t know the mind of God, although we like to think we do. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James 2:10. What the Bible tells us is that in God’s eyes, a sin is a sin. If we screw up in one place, we might as well have screwed them all up. Why? Because sin is disobedience to God, and God expects his followers to be blameless in His sight.
So, if that’s true, we’re all in trouble, right? Yes and No. It is true that none of us can achieve God’s favor by our own efforts. That is the sad truth. But if we admit our shortcomings — our sin — and by faith we trust in God’s mercy and the sacrificial substitutionary death of Christ Jesus, we can see God’s favor. That is the one hope that we all have, the one hope that Elijah Page had, and the one thing that I pray he was able to understand before his death.
Page was a very fortunate man in knowing the day and the hour of his death. For the rest of us, that is unknown. Don’t risk losing your eternal life in exchange for what little you think can be gained in this life by thumbing your nose at God. It’s a terrible gamble with terrible consequences for those who choose wrongly.