Statesboro, GA, USA
"An eye for an eye", "A tooth for a tooth", "A life for a life" ... That just shows how far the bible is from Democracy.
As Local Reb said, democracy or not, is not the issue. Democracy is merely a form of Government. The will of the people may be moral or immoral, for good or for ill. So the Bible, or Christians who uphold the Bible's moral and spiritual standards, have no obligation or desire to apologetically try to harmonize it's history with modern democratic ideals. Differing forms of Government were expressed throughout the Bible, which makes forms of government, though not unimportant, a secondary consideration. And aside from that, I'm certainly skeptical of the view that democracy is a fix-all, almost heavenly form of government. Have you ever heard of the tyranny of the 51% vote? Majority doesn't mean moral, right, or beautiful. Also, this country is just a little over 200 years old. American-style democracy has not been tested, as far as longevity is concerned.
Oh, and about the "eye for an eye" standard for the Israelites. You need to really study the Ancient Near East culture surrounding these Semites, during that time. This was definitely a mitigating standard, something put in place to keep in check the all-too-human desire to take two eyes for an eye, or 5 teeth for a tooth, or a life for a hand. It was there to establish the baseline of justice, in a world where punishment usually went far beyond justice in severity. This was a smooth diamond among the sharp rocks of ancient brutality, as strange as that may sound.
It is revenge, not justice. It is doing what is wrong for what is wrong, not what is right.
Actually revenge is more within the realm of personal vigilanteism. The "eye for an eye" principle was a form given to the civil government, as mediators in a criminal situation. Regardless of whether you believe this form is justifiable or not, it is not merely revenge.
Though civil punishments that lean heavily on the concept of unmitigated justice, have principles which give them credence (such as the fact that consistent punishment can serve to renew social bonds, commitments to standards, and deter others from doing the same crimes), I too recognize the necessity for going beyond mere justice. Even Jesus said "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39). This higher and better standard is given first of all to the pious community of believers (the Church), and to the individuals which comprise it.
So don't misunderstand me Essorant, in thinking that I'm disagreeing with you completely. I think the standard of Christ is a much better one than the old "eye for an eye" one. We need to go beyond mere justice, to a just kind of mercy.
Where I differ from you, I suppose, is in thinking that the "eye for an eye" standard doesn't represent justice. I think it does. But for sinners, such as ourselves, justice isn't always the desirable path. Justice is a double edged sword, which sends some men to prison and death, and gives other men rewards. Justice is based on performance.
The Biblical view of things, tells us that God gives nations "The power of the sword", primarily because they are the nations of this world, and are strangers (like the Jews of the Mosaic covenant were) to the covenant of grace. How else is the world going to deal with hardened criminals, murderers, rapists, child molesters, etc ...? They have to do such things, to keep the common peace and order. The "eye for an eye" standard is not only prescriptive, but descriptive. It is simply what happens in a twisted, corrupted, and sinful world.
God therefore desires men to come to his covenant of grace, to find forgiveness and be transformed spiritually and morally. But the reason that his justice (through Law) remains, is that men will not be able to bypass the covenant of grace and still receive mercy. If mercy is not obtained through Christ, then God's justice still remains with it's brandished sword. It is truth played in a minor key. It is a legal echo of the glorious voice of God against sin and wickedness. Echoes are distorted, and doleful songs aren't always the best ones. So in one very imporant sense, Essorant, I totally agree with you. I see that you see the necessity of something better than undiluted justice. But you should be careful not to conflate justice and mercy.
The Old Testament was also primarily a revelation of God's justice to the jews. They were given a legal system by which to approach him. One very important function of this, was to show the powerlessness of law to change things inwardly. Literally to convince the jews that there should be something better ... that indeed something or someone was coming which embodied the messianic hope and mercy. So if the idea of strict justice seems to frustate you when you imagine it coming from God, you can rest assured that the Bible too, shows this as a dispensational revelation, not the full expression of who God is. There is the necessity of justice with God toward sin, but it is not the best and brightest way that God relates to us as his children. Moses saw the "hinder parts of God", but in the Gospel we see the face of Christ, where the legal veil is taken away. There mercy can reign because justice was met in the person of Christ on the cross.
So bloody messy justice is only half the story. Friday, with the sun eclipsed and Jews and Gentiles both guilty, gives way to Sunday morning with an empty tomb and a trembling hope. Ultimately that's the kind of world we live in.