With all the violence and lawlessness in our country today. I have always felt that we do not punish criminal’s severely enough. It seems that most crime is done by repeat offenders. And without severe consequences, they will simply refuse to stop. But being a Christian, I’m conflicted, because we are supposed to love and forgive. How are we supposed to deal with this as Christians?
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I have been consistently reminded lately that even though the world, as far as I am concerned, is falling apart around me, God is still in control. When I sit down to His word and just let my Bible fall open, I invariably get around to the history of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. I am quoting it here from The Message; if the editors want simply to refer, that's fine with me. Jehoshaphat was fearful that the violence of the world would overwhelm his kingdom, tearing apart his responsibility. But by prayer and fasting, proclaimed for all believers, God set an ambush on the attackers so that they destroyed themselves, leaving all of the spoil for the King and his people. God promises us only the best, God promises us that His way is best; God tells us, again and again, to be patient and wait on the Lord. That's how to handle the violence in the world today. We can participate as citizens, and are expected to do so, in the political process, but we should NEVER take God's work in our own hands or decide our way is better than His. 1 ¶ After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). 3 Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD....12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 13 Meanwhile all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. 14 ¶ And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. 15 And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.... 20 ¶ And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa....22 And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. 23 For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another. 24 When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the horde, and behold, there were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped. 25 When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found among them, in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. Wait for God. His ways are not known, indeed we cannot know them, but He always has only the best in mind for us. Trust in the Lord. Do your battles on your knees and you always win.
To me, love and forgiveness from a Christian perspective do not necessarily entail the absence or waiving of legal consequences for criminal actions. God is a God of justice as well as of love and mercy. Paul said in Romans 13:1-5 that civil authorities had been put in place by God for the specific purpose of punishing wrongdoers. There may be such legal pardon in exceptional individual cases, but criminals have no right to expect such leniency as a matter of course, nor does their punishment violate the general Christian command to love others. One of my favorite Christian apologists, C. S. Lewis, said that, if even a Christian were somehow to commit murder, the proper course of action for that individual from a Christian perspective would be to surrender himself to authorities and be executed. I recommend looking at the chapter on forgiveness in his book Mere Christianity, which is available for free online as a.pdf file.
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