Sunday, February 22, 2009

Justice by Fallen Men: Dt 17:6-7

"On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst." (Deuteronomy 17:6-7)
There exists in most people an innate sense of justice; a desire to see the guilty punished and the wronged recompensed. This sense of justice and fair play is rooted in our creation; in that we have been made in God's image. God is a God of justice and we, as those made in His image, not only share in His desire for justice but also participate with Him in establishing His justice upon the earth. This is why cultures and governments around the world, even those who may not acknowledge God nor His laws, have established judicial systems to ensure justice and to punish those who transgress the standards and principals of equity as understood by those societies. Unfortunately, while we have been made in His image, it is, in many ways, a fallen image.
"According as it is written, There is not a righteous [man], not even one; there is not the [man] that understands, there is not one that seeks after God.All have gone out of the way, they have together become unprofitable; there is not one that practises goodness, there is not so much as one... for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:10-12, 23 Darby)
While we were made in God's image, sin has tarnished that image. If you look hard enough you can still see remnants of it, but its purity has been lost. That is why God placed safeguards within the process of Justice. Knowing the nature of man, God knew of his propensity to pervert justice, and sought to institutionalize protections within the judicial system of Israel to minimize the sinful tendencies of fallen men. This scripture identifies two such important protections in the procedural dispensing of Justice.

First, the penalty of law, in this case capital punishment, was not to be imposed based on the testimony of a single witness. John records that, "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." (1 John 5:19 NKJV) Jesus also teaches us concerning the wicked one, "Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44) Knowing this, it shouldn't surprise us when people lie, even in a court of law, even when the lie could lead to a grouse miscarriage of justice and to a severity of punishment that would include even death. While one made in the image of God should not lie, fallen man does, and because of this, guilt and punishment should not be determined based solely on the testimony of one person. The greater the corroboration of testimonies, the greater the assurance that truth will be determined and justice decided.

Secondly, justice should never minimize the role and participation of the victims or the witnesses. In this case, the witnesses of the crime, those whose testimony lead to the judgement of death, were to participate in the execution of that punishment; they were to cast the first stones. It is easier to lie when the consequences of that lie do not effect you personally. The greater the separation from the lie and its unfortunate consequences, the less it pains the lier. However, if when one lies in court they are made to participate in the execution of the judgement rendered by their lie, it gives greater pause and allows time for their conscience to intervene and for that remnant of the image of God to rise up and challenge the perjurer to do the right thing.

It is unfortunate that in my country, the United States of America, that our system of justice has almost completely removed the witnesses and victims from any personal attachment to the process of justice. While victims and witnesses may testify, they do so at the request of the state. In most cases, the state is perceived as the real victim in the trial, after all, it was their law that was violated, and if one is found guilty, their fines and punishment are paid to the state not to the true victim, that is, the one truly injured by the criminal offense. I believe that our country needs to reevaluate many aspects of its criminal justice system and restore the victim and witness to their proper place in the procedures of justice.

David Robison

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