Viewing entries tagged
Penal Sanctions

More Capital Punishment

True justice is so terribly perverted in the United States.  Thieves are punished by fines and imprisonment as if their crime was against the state, while the victims of the crime have their property replaced by insurance companies.  This is utter foolishness.  In addition, a person can get into all kinds of trouble for driving too fast or too erratically, while those who have sex with animals or with other humans of the same gender receive no rebuke.   What we Americans have apparently decided is that we know better than God about which things to label as crimes and that we know better than He does about the ways that those crimes ought to be punished.  And the saddest part of all of this is that most Christians are more likely to support man's definition of crime and punishment than God's own wise revelation of justice in His Word. In our land, if a man commits adultery there is absolutely no penalty.  No one is fined.  No one goes to jail.  There's not even a public flogging of such a person.  A person can commit such an atrocity with no fear of a just punishment from the state.  Jaywalking carries a stiffer penalty.  Not so in the perfect Law of God.  We find in Leviticus 20:10 that "if a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."  In the Law of God, the punishment fits the crime.  Breaking the sacred marriage vows that image forth the fidelity of Christ and the church to one another needs to be punished as severely as possible by the state.  To let something like adultery happen day by day in this country with no just penalty is a downright abomination.

The same thing could be said for any of the other crimes that call for the death penalty in God's Law.  Homosexual acts are an abominable crime, and the state ought to hand out the just penalty (Leviticus 20:13).  Intercourse between humans and animals ought to penalized with death (Leviticus 20:16).  Even things like witchcraft and pagan worship should be punishable by death by the state because trafficking with demons will always lead to the downfall of any society (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:2).  Instead, however, our military creates chaplaincies for those who practice witchcraft and even sets up pagan worship areas in complete rebellion against the Law of God (see the story here).

Some Christians are quick to defend the man-centered and sin-centered laws of the United States by claiming that God's Laws were only for the Old Covenant Israelites - as if what God decided was good for society is no longer important now that Christ has come.  These folks will often and even loudly lament the state of our nation, and will decry the sinful presence of homosexuality and adultery, but at the end of the day will still claim that not wearing a seat belt should be a greater crime in the eyes of the state than cheating on one's spouse.  Not only is this the height of foolishness, it is also patently unbiblical.

God has always held all nations accountable for the ways that they either keep or dismiss His laws.  In fact, Israel was able to conquer the land of Canaan, slaughtering all the inhabitants, precisely because the Canaanites had lived contrary to the laws of God (Leviticus 20:23).  And Jesus was very clear to state that His coming did absolutely nothing to negate the previously given Law of God, but that - to the contrary - "until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:18-19).

We need to wake up and understand that there has been a great relaxing of the commandments of God (and not just the least of them, but the greatest of them as well) in our nation and even among those in our churches.  We are in dire straights at the moment and the 'Christians' have contributed to this downfall of our society as much as or more than anyone else because it was our duty to educate our people in the importance of God's commands (Matthew 28:20).  May God have mercy on us for failing so miserably at what He called us to do, and may He give us the boldness and the wisdom to begin to make it right.

An Eye for an Eye

The following quote is from Greg Bahnsen's book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics.

The main underlying principle of scriptural penology (whether civic or eternal) is not reformation or deterrence, but justice. The outstanding characteristic of theonomic punishment is the principle of equity; no crime receives a penalty which it does not warrant. The punishment for a violation of God’s law is always appropriate for the nature of the offense; “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Here is the most blessed standard of social retribution that man’s civilization has ever seen. That the Older Testament law sets forth humane and just punishments for crime is immediately apparent when one compares it with the legal codes of the nations around Israel. God’s penal sanctions are not overweighted, cruel, unusual, or excessive; a criminal receives what he deserves: no more, no less. It is especially important for Christians to recognize this fact, for it is the underlying principle at work in the atoning death of Jesus Christ upon the cross; He is the sinner’s substitute in order to effect atonement. Sin must meet divine judgment (e.g., Nah. 1:2, Hab. 1:13), and God can only forgive sin in a manner consistent with His holiness (Ps. 85:9 f.). Hence a sacrifice had to be offered to placate divine wrath occasioned by sin.

Within this framework Christ came as our sacrificial substitute; He is the Lamb of God who brings redemption by His sacrifice upon the cross (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 9:11-15; 10:3-18; 13:10-12; 1 Pet. 1:18 f.) and thus substitutes Himself for the sinner by taking God’s wrath upon Himself (Col. 2:14; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:10, 13; cf. Deut. 21:23; 27: 26; Jer. 11:3). The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon Him (Isa. 53:6). Christ laid down His life to atone for the sinner’s life; Christ took the punishment warranted by the sinner’s violation of God’s law upon Himself. Therefore, the sinner need not fear God’s eternal punishment, for his sin has been atoned. The principle of retribution is prominent in man’s salvation. This illustrates the importance of the scriptural penal system: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

This principle of equity applies to civic punishments imposed by the civil magistrate; there must be equity in punishment, even at the social level. God operates on the basis of retribution (Job 34:11; Ps. 18:25 f.; Ezek. 18:4, 20; Gal. 6:7—and even restitution, Job 42:10), and the penalties which He prescribes for social sins are based on the same principle of retribution, restitution and compensation (Ex. 21:18-22:7; Lev. 6:4 f.; 24:17-21; Deut. 19:21). None of God’s penalties are excessive or lenient; hence the Older Testament does not detail arbitrary punishments for crimes (as with the varying fines for traffic violations from state to state in our modern day), but the punishment was made to correspond to the social heinousness of the offense so that the culprit receives what his public disobedience merits (e.g., Deut. 19:19). The penalties imposed upon social crime are just as appropriate, equitable, and just with respect to their sphere of reference (civil society) as the eternal punishment for that crime (considered now as sin) is just with respect to its sphere of reference (the God-man relation with respect to eternity).

Crime and Punishment

Let's say you wake up tomorrow morning and discover that some time in the night all of your valuables have been stolen.  You call the police and fill out a report.  Two days later, the cops catch the thief and are able to return some but not all of your things.  At this point, what do you expect should happen to the thief?  In most states, he will go to jail or prison, and the sentence length is based on what the value of the property stolen happened to be and whether his theft can be counted as a misdemeanor or a felony. But is this what should happen?  In America, we witness so many cases where the punishment does not fit the crime that the grand majority of us don't even know that there might be a problem.  We see it on the news when drug lords are put away for life.  We see it in television shows like 24 when Jack Bauer does inhumane things in pursuit of the next lead - we even applaud it!  We especially see it in the way that our laws have no punishments for evil acts like aborting unborn children, participating in homosexual acts, practicing witchcraft, or bowing down to false gods.

God's Law, as revealed in His Word, contains appropriate and fitting punishments for transgressions of that Law.  The thief is not incarcerated; he is merely forced to either return what was stolen and/or pay back two to five times the value of what he took, depending on the circumstance (Exodus 22:1-4).  That's a punishment that fits the crime.  The victim actually ends up in a better place than he was before his property was stolen - something that never happens in our criminal justice system - and the thief has to do some hard work to make right his wrong, but he does not have years stolen from his life in incarceration.  Both sides are "happy" with this outcome.

On the other end of the spectrum, if someone has committed murder or adultery or practiced witchcraft, that person's life is forfeit immediately on the testimony of two or more witnesses (Exodus 21:12, Deuteronomy 22:22, and Exodus 22:18 respectively).  There are no life sentences or paroles.  The punishment fits the crime.  In our society, some crimes are punished far too harshly, and some abominable crimes are not punished at all, or else they receive such measly consequences that it becomes a joke.

I found myself recently swept up in the cultural delusion concerning just punishment when I read Genesis 34.  In the story, Jacob's daughter, Dinah, is raped by Shechem the son of Hamor the Hittite.  Dinah's brothers are, of course, furious over this, and so two of them, Simeon and Levi, concoct a very Jack Bauer-like plan to have every male in the town circumcised.  Then, on the third day, when all of the men are so sore that they can't even get up, these two brothers come through and put the whole city to the sword.  I've seen enough TV that I actually applaud this kind of commando behavior.

Jacob was not very impressed with his sons' vengeance, however.  At first, he rebukes Simeon and Levi for causing him to "stink to the inhabitants of the land" (Genesis 34:30).  He is concerned that the rest of the people of the surrounding area might attack him.  But at the end of Jacob's life, he hands out an even sterner criticism of the boys' actions during the "blessing" of his twelve sons.  He says in Genesis 49:5-7:

Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords.  Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company.  For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.  Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel!  I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.

This is how we ought to think about what the boys did.  Killing an entire town was not a just punishment for the actions of one man - it was mass murder!  In fact, not even the rapist should have been put to the sword; even that punishment would not have fit the crime.  Later, the Law would say, "If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.  If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins" (Exodus 22:16-17).  This is exactly what Shechem tried to do (Genesis 34:12).

Our understanding of what punishment a crime ought to deserve needs to come from a reading of God's Law, not our own feelings.  This is just one more place in our culture where we have replaced the Word of God with the whim of man.