There really are crimes for which it is hard to fathom, let alone to understand how to deal with. Certainly, genocide is one that comes to mind. The intense hatred for a group of people simply because of their heritage, race or culture is always mind boggling, but it is certain evil when accompanied by violence against an entire group because of these things.
There are other crimes, though, that still shock even on a smaller scale. We’ve had a ton of these in the news in the past year: The Batman shooting, Sandy Hook, Kermit Gosnell and Ariel Castro, just to name a few.
In every case, there have been pundits of various stripes that have espoused all sorts of, *ahem*, creative punishments for some of these individuals:
- “Death is too good for him.”
- “Hard labor is more of a punishment than the death penalty.”
- “He should get what he did to those others.”
General Principle in Punishment
There is a general sense of equality when it comes to punishment listed in the Bible
23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
19 Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.
20 And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
21 And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
This principle is often referred to as the punishment should fit the crime. Literally, one does not necessarily cut off someone’s hand if they injured someone else’s hand, but he or she must be punished to the extent that is considered equal.
This means two things. First of all, it means that the sense of revenge and compensation is satisfied by the offended party.
Second, it reigns in the amount of punishment that can be inflicted. All punishment is intended as a deterrent. By making an example of a criminal, potential offenders are less likely to offend, and so there will be “no more any such evil among you”. However, to take it beyond a level that is justified is cruelty.
That’s an important thing to consider. A cruel system of punishment makes criminals out of the ones that are supposed to oversee justice. This type of cruelty is harmful to the entire society, as respect for law and order breaks down in various ways and the hearts of the general population become hardened.
That means that in some cases, the crime was so horrific that giving back the same thing to the offender can make offenders out of the governing authorities.
When Death Is Justified
It might sound gruesome, and I hope it does, if someone was found guilty of rape that a judge might decide that the punishment should be rape of that offender. As bad as that sounds, there are similar sorts of “justice” in this world, where rape is dispensed as the punishment for the offender.
Does it really have to be argued that this is harmful for any society?
Therefore, there is a line to which dispensing punishment is no longer justice but cruelty. That’s why in the Bible the ultimate penalty is death.
The other angle to be considered is God’s nature. His nature is one that tends towards mercy.
6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
7 But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.
The ultimate goal is repentance.
11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
However, some are stubborn and unrepentant. Death is far more merciful for the unrepentant. That might defy some people’s notions of justice and fairness, but God will raise them up at a better time when Satan cannot influence them. It is better and easier for people who have crossed that moral line to be brought up in a world of fairness and mercy rather than under the sway of the one who influenced them to commit the sin in the first place.
Death is also more merciful in the ultimate sense as well. Only a monster would create a world under the sway of an evil and rebellious being who has the power to deceive the entire world and then turn around and punish those who knew no better for an eternity in pain and agony.
In fact, the concept of an eternal hell is an argument from Satan himself. It is his idea of a creative punishment, and it is a far cry from what the Bible says.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
~ Ro 6:23
Sin leads to death, in this life and for eternity if never repented of. That is why life is a gift. If we already had an immortal soul that never dies, then we already have it and there is nothing left to be given.
God makes it clear which crimes bring the death penalty. He makes it clear which ones cross that line. The most obvious example is that of putting to death an murderer, and it is actually the first command we see in relation to government.
5 And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.
6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
~ Ge 9:5-6
We see that man is commissioned to be self-policing and establish government to enforce laws.
Human reasoning will say either that death itself is cruel and unusual punishment or that it let’s off the offender too easily. It is strange that people from polar opposites can come together on a point like this, but only as long as it contradicts God’s law.
The truth is that a rotten apple left in the barrel will rot the rest of the apples. The death penalty is the ultimate and speedy removal. Putting someone into prison for life only puts them into a smaller barrel. They can still influence other prisoners, they tax and burden the justice system, they add up to unnecessary expenses with food, clothing and shelter, and even if they were to be put to forced labor they essentially live useless lives. For a culture that claims to abhor slavery, this really is just another type of slavery.
And, thus, it affects the guards, police and judges who must deal with this situation. The hardness of the hearts of the general population become harder as a result. It is de-humanizing for the entire culture.
Also, the seriousness of certain crimes are minimized. Not only is the value of life minimized towards the prisoners, but the value of life overall is minimized as murder is somewhat more acceptable because the penalty isn’t as shocking.
All this leads to a degradation in general towards authority and the justice system. It becomes a cancer that threatens the health of the society as a whole.
It is the result of human reasoning. It is a continuation of the great experiment started in the Garden of Eden, deciding right and wrong for ourselves and then evaluating the outcome based upon what we deem as right and wrong. We decide the yardstick as well as the angles to measure, and we never have a clear picture of what we are really looking at. At the same time, it is a rejection of the revealed knowledge that God has given us in His word.
5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
~ Pr 3:5-6
It is at the root of all of mankind’s unsolvable problems.