The worldwide outcry over Indonesia’s execution of eight drug trafficking convicts seems to show the immense value humanity puts on life. Four Nigerians, two Australians, a Brazilian, and an Indonesian fell before on Wednesday just past midnight.
Of the “Bali 9” death row inmates, only Filipina Mary Jane Veloso was spared the firing squad. As urged by Anis Hidayah, executive director of Migrant Care, a Jakarta-based non-government organization, Indonesian President Joko Widodo suspended the maid’s execution, so she can testify against her just-surrendered job placement agent, whom she accused of putting heroin in her luggage.
Still, despite such widespread agitation over last week’s death sentences, most executions and much bloodletting get little or no public attention. How many of us know — or care — that there were at least 607 executions in 22 countries last year? That number excludes thousands believed to have been meted out in China, plus many others not counted in Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
Even those that make headlines could get undignified by press and politics. One local newspaper, keen to turn impending tragedy into front-page drama, headlined “Death Came Before Dawn” without confirming Veloso’s execution. In the scramble for credit among various parties, Malacañang attributed the reprieve to President Benigno Aquino 3rd. In fact, the helper’s lawyer said Hidayah’s Tuesday night talk with President Widodo, noting the recruiter’s surrender, was the crucial intervention.
People or institutions that oppose specific executions may condone others. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the Bali 9 executions “unnecessary because both of these young Australians [executed]were fully rehabilitated”. So if they weren’t remorseful and reformed, would killing them then be necessary?
“This is about our legal sovereignty,” declared President Widodo regarding the capital penalties. Yet he recently pleaded with Saudi Arabia to spare an Indonesian domestic helper sentenced to death two years ago for killing her employer’s four-year-old child. But she was beheaded in mid-April, the second Indonesian maid executed in the kingdom that week.
Despite that sad episode, Indonesia did not extend to its own death row inmates the humane treatment it asked Saudi Arabia for its nationals. Is life less valuable if the condemned broke the law in one’s own country?
Protecting life by threatening it
Even more telling of how much or little the world really values life is the mammoth difference between what nations spend on aid and on arms. Worldwide military spending is close to $1.8 trillion a year — about 12 times the record level of foreign aid recorded in 2013.
Defense officials argue that arms spending protects lives. Thus, we stockpile weapons and train soldiers for state-directed violence in the hope that this might would deter or stop threats. Our world spends the equivalent of one-tenth of US economic output on the wherewithal to wage war, because that supposedly deters it.
Clearly, that is not the kind of world most of humankind want. Those who truly value life would never want to protect it by threatening to inflict death and destruction. Yet since prehistory, man has sought peace through implements of violence. Just as those seeking to stop murder and drugs, resort to killing offenders.
Isn’t there a better way to preserve and protect life than threatening it?
Jesus didn’t take or threaten life. When injustice, politicking, and violence in Jerusalem brought him torture and crucifixion, He did as His Father has done in the face of human transgressions: He suffered. And as only God embracing humanity can, Jesus died.
Now, we certainly should not allow wanton injustice, violence, and oppression. Those seeking to establish God’s Kingdom on earth must do what they can to stop evil, even if one must brandish and wield arms. The Mafia, Boko Haram, ISIS, and other lawless killers should not be meekly suffered, but resolutely stopped.
But let not the lesser evil of fighting violence with violence rather than letting it ravage unrestrained, make us forget the incalculable value of life, even that of the murderous. For when blood is shed sans remorse and even with gusto, as seen in movies and TV — indeed, when carnage becomes entertainment — that is not a godly regard for life.
In Christ’s death, life is immensely valued
Which cannot but raise the question: If God values life so much, why did He let His own Son be arrested, beaten up, scourged, thorned, condemned, nailed and speared till death at three? Is that supposed to stop death’s pain and irretrievable loss?
The eight Bali 9 convicts who declined blindfolds and faced the firing squad singing the Gospel song “Amazing Grace” certainly believed there was more to the coming volley of bullets than unmitigated tragedy and the end of existence. They faced the agony of dying with the hope of living again with no more sorrow and pain ever again.
“It was breathtaking,” said Indonesian opposition foreign affairs spokesman Tanya Plibersek. “This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their god.” Or as Bali Niner Sukamaran told a friend before execution: “I know where I’m going, man.”
One wonders whether some of the death row inmates might have sung a different tune, or none at all, if Jesus had not died and risen two millennia ago.
Indeed, countless others since that first Easter Triduum have embraced death for the faith and the faithful, braving beheading and crucifixion, lions in the arena, flaying, quartering and burning alive, all the way to today’s martyrdoms in Syria and Iraq.
By dying and rising for our salvation Christ showed that death can have immense meaning and heralds the transformation of our being.
And laying down one’s life for others is the greatest human act God did.
Thus, life is the most valuable gift that man or God can give. Nurture it on earth and devote to heaven.