Crime and Punishment

<<offence and penalty>>

Crime and punishment are concepts related to the regulation of society. Every culture imposes some form of penalty or deterrent for infringements of its rules and practices, yet the impartial government is God's ordained system to carry out any punishment after a through and fair trial, not by vigilantes or retaliation by the victim.

Laws bring the knowledge of sin (or departures from what is acceptable) and are intended to restrain people from breaking them by imposing penalties for there are outcomes to everything we do, good or bad. There must be clear guidelines in society

There must be a deterrent for wrong

and when they have been violated appropriate punishment must be consistently applied, regardless of who the offender is. Fairness or justice is essential. If there is no punishment there is no justice.

Society can approach the issue of breaking the laws in either of two ways: the emphasis of punitive justice is the punishment of the lawbreaker. In the OT this was to suffer like treatment, “an eye for an eye” (Deut 19:21). Today this is outworked as a prison term, where the offender is separated from the rest of society for an extended period of time often will little or no reform or else a fine imposed with the money going to the state, not the victim. In contrast restorative justice, focuses not so much on punishing the offender as on them making amends for the crime with an attempt to restore all involved: the offender, victim and all of society.

The Bible advocates both forms, in serious matters where there no possibility to restore what was taken, such as murder, the perpetrators' life was forfeited, and in other cases restorative with the penalty being to pay back four or five times the value of the offence (Ex 21:12, 22:1). This was the approach of Zacchaeus who knew what was required when he said he would pay back four-fold what he had stolen (Lk 19:8). By this system the victim is compensated, the criminal pays the penalty (hopefully with a behavioural change) and is restored to society.

Often today very little restoration (repairing, bringing a thing back to its original state) or restitution (compensation) is given to the victims of the crime who suffer, maybe more than those who commit the crime, because they are protected by all sorts of other laws.

God is the supreme judge and even if people are not reprimanded but seemingly get away with a crime in this life they must face up to it when standing
before God, “for everyone shall be judged according to their actions” (Ps 73:3,17; 2 Cor 5:10). God is a God of justice. 

Although all offences are committed against an individual or community, they are primarily against God’s way of living (Ps 51:4).  The damage done to humans, who are made in the image of God, is also direct rebellion against

God is always watching even if man isn’t

Him for “Whatever you have done to others, you have done to me” (Mt 25:40,45). Crime is a sin of action, not of mental intent or desire. For example, coveting is not a punishable offense by society, yet by God's reckoning it is a sin that is answerable for (Mt 5:27,28). Personal responsibility needs to taken for self-discipline to keep emotions and actions under control and for a believer our whole life should increasingly be tamed by the Holy Spirit.

To prevent an escalating cycle of wrong doing, petty crime needs to be addressed early to show the offender that going the route of crime no one wins.

See also: accountability, consequences, correction, discipline, judging, judgment, justice, punishment, restitution/restore, restorative justice, rules, self-discipline, sin/sinner, sow and reap.