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Crime And Punishment - A Biblical Perspective

Crime
and Punishment
has come to sharp focus in the light of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, leaving thousands dead. How is the world to react to such a grievous crime? How is the Christian to respond to such a heinous sin ? What does the Bible say about Crime and Punishment

 

The God of the Bible is a holy and loving God. Being holy, He is just and punishes unrepentant sinners. Being love, He is forgiving and long suffering. The Commandments given by God on Mount Sinai reflect the character of God. The transgressors are to be punished. While pagan punishment for crime was retributive, that of the Old Testament was deterrent and restitutional   
 

Old Testament punishment for murder, idolatry, adultery and so on, were death and deterrent so that "all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again" (Deuteronomy13:11). For theft, damage and such crimes, the penalty was restitution (ref.Exodus22). It is interesting to note that the original Hebrew word used here is "Shalam" which has many meanings including "to be whole, to repay, to have peace". Hence the Old Testament objective of penalty was to reconcile and to make peace. It is pertinent to note that, there is no prison under Mosaic Law. The situation was that either the criminal was put to death (if his crime was too severe) or he was reconciled to the victim and society through restitution  

As revelation become complete in the New Testament, the objective of punishment becomes rehabilitative; but continues to be restitutional and deterrent. Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery: "leave your life of sin" (John 8:11). This is rehabilitative. Salvation comes to the house of Zacchaeus when he makes restitution (Luke 19:8-9). Paul instructs Timothy "those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning."(1 Timothy 5:20). This is deterrent.

 

Response to crime is from two directions - that of the governmental authorities and that of the victims and other individuals. The response is also two dimensional - social and spiritual  

The response of victims and other individuals should be spiritual. They are to love and forgive the perpetuators of the crime and pray for them. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven"             (Luke 6:37). "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). The prayer should principally be for salvation of the perpetrators , their families, society and nations. This prayer should be followed up with humanitarian deeds. Prayers without deeds would be equivalent to faith without deeds and would be ineffective. "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead" (James 2:17). Christians have the responsibility to take holistic action to tackle the spiritual, social, economic and political causes of crime and terrorism.   
The response of the governmental authorities should be social. Their primary goal is to protect the society from recurrence of crime, by executing deterrent punishment on the perpetrators. The government must also ensure that those responsible for crime make such restitution as they are capable of making within their resources. This will also rescue them from guilt conscious and be instrumental in a healing and reconciling process. The governments must in addition initiate holistic steps to tackle the spiritual, social, economic and political causes of crime.   

This does not absolve the responsibility of individual members of the governments from their spiritual responsibility to love and forgive the perpetrators, to pray for them and take appropriate holistic action.

 

This course of action, based on sound Biblical principles, will reduce future crimes and prevent the victims and individual members of society from ruining their spiritual, emotional and  physical health through  unforgiveness, resentment, hatred and hysteria. 

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