Early September of last year, Lauren Daigle, the sensational contemporary Christian singer, captured the hearts of many with the release of her second album, Look Up Child. Hit singles such as “You Say” dominated the Billboard 200 charts for weeks and made Lauren’s album the highest-charting Christian album by a woman in over 20 years. Needless to say, her music brought life to many desperate hearts.
There is one song in Lauren’s new album which not only brought me life, but consequently, gifted me with a renewed sense of perspective in terms of how Christians ought to respond when it comes to the issue of the death penalty, and that is the opening song of the album – “Still Rolling Stones.” Never did I imagine that this upbeat song with its wild tempo would set me on a course of deep reflection on what our Christian response ought to be when it comes to the death penalty, at least till my mind settled on the lyrics of the first verse (I entreat you to listen to the whole song):
Out of the shadows
Bound for the gallows
A dead man walking
Till love came calling
Rise up (rise up)
Rise up (rise up)
Instantly, the connection seems to become clearer as one focuses on the lyrics. Inmates on death row are bound for the gallows and are literally dead men and women walking. They dwell in constant shadows of condemnation, some shame, and others guilt. Suffice it to say, darkness envelopes their lives and for some, despair is welcomed as a better alternative to guilt. But the song doesn’t end there: “Till love came calling, rise up, rise up.” This is where the centerpiece of Lauren’s song comes into full circle—the abounding restorative power of God, a theme made explicit in the chorus of the song:
All at once I came alive
This beating heart, these open eyes
The grave let go
The darkness should have known
(You’re still rolling rolling, you’re still rolling rolling oh)
You’re still rolling stones
(You’re still rolling rolling oh)
You’re still rolling stones
It seems, perhaps, that Christians have forgotten that God has always been, and is still very much in the business of reviving and restoring, and He is still in the business of “rolling rolling” stones. That this continual and ongoing process of restoration begun on the cross and is still alive and active today—that no matter how vile, how evil, how shameful, how horrific our stones may be, and no matter how enveloped in darkness they may be, his restorative power brings us alive and rolls those stones away.
All through the Bible, we see time and time again stories of how God prizes restoration. The zenith act of love—Jesus’ death on the cross—was born out of the need for restoration, salvation, and revival. He paid the ultimate price so that we can live into the authenticity of what it means to be saved. His death eliminated the requirement for blood recompense, and it is no surprise that he admonishes us in Galatians to restore gently our brothers and sisters who find themselves in sin and commit grievous and sometimes life-altering mistakes.
The call to focus on the restorative power of God as a way of reconsidering our approach to the death penalty is not a call to eliminate and undermine justice. God equally cares about justice. However, as Dominique Gilliard rightly says, “justice that has no plans for restoration is vengeance,” and what more could be the ultimate denier of restoration than the death penalty? What else stands blatantly and challenges the restorative power of God to make dry bones come alive than the death penalty? What else pushes back on the notion that “each one of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done” than the death penalty? If we as Christians are to stay true to what we already know about the abounding restorative power of God, then we need a 360 evaluation of how we view the death penalty.
Additionally, beyond the moral call to genuine faithfulness on this issue is the clear argument of practicality. Statistically speaking, we know that each year, some inmates on death row are found to be innocent and exonerated while others have been found to be innocent after execution. For this reason alone, experts and advocates like Bryan Stevenson have argued that this should be enough to reconsider the exercise of the death penalty – a position I wholeheartedly agree with. If the Church truly believes that all humans bear the image of God and are in fact against the “wanton or arbitrary” destruction of human life affirmed by the sixth commandment1 (a belief championed and herald by the pro-life movement), then, aren’t we cutting against the very grain of our identity as protectors of life when we allow a flawed system that erroneously erases the sacredness of life each year to continue?
Our world is broken and fallen, thus, day in and day out, we are forced to face difficult issues that sometimes leave us paralyzed. They are messy, and sometimes, we understandably lose our humanity, or worse, we forget the prevailing power of God to heal and restore the messiness. But through all this, as people of faith, we are encouraged to continually focus our eyes on the Lord. As you enter this Easter season and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a poignant reminder of our victory over sin, I implore you to remember that His sacrifice was an act of restoration—an act He continues to actualize in our lives, even in the lives of those condemned and bound for the gallows.
I will leave you to reflect on the last verse of “Still Rolling Stones.” I have a vivid image in my mind each time I hear this part—it is an image of a broken woman, a condemned woman on death row, filled with despair but clinging to the dying embers of hope, hope for restoration:
I thought that I was too far gone
For everything I’ve done wrong
Yeah, I’m the one who dug this grave
But You called my name
You called my name.
Christian Reformed Church Position Statement on Abortion: https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/position-statements/abortion ↩