Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Crime and Punishment, Mostly Punishment (Dt 25:1-3)

"If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. He may beat him forty times but no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes." (Deuteronomy 25:1-3)
This scripture tells us several things about punishment:
  1. Physical punishment can be effective as a vehicle for administering justice. In my country we presently only have two options for punishment: 1) fines, and 2) incarceration, but this was not always the case. For example, in Las Vegas (where I used to live) the penalty for one who physically abused his wife used to be public beatings. In may other nations, beating or caining is still practiced today. In the right context, this may be useful as a punishment and a deterrence to crime.
  2. For punishment to be effective it must be applied in a timely manner. When years pass between the crime, the sentence, and the actual punishment, the value of punishment as a deterrent diminishes. King Solomon observes, "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil." (Ecclesiastes 8:11)
  3. Punishment should not be done in secret. When punishment is done behind "closed doors" it can lead to the sentence being too strict and/or to the abuse of the offender. When those who mete out punishment never see the results of their sentence they loose touch with the effect their decision has on the lives of those they preside. Similarly, when punishment is not done "in the light" it is hard to ensure that the punishment is executed as intended in the sentence.
  4. In punishment we must not loose sight that the offender is a person; one made in the image of Christ. No matter how heinous the crime, a person is still a person and deserving of respect. Not that we pity the offender, but we must still treat them with the common dignity shown to an human being. Punishment must not necessitate disrespect.
David Robison

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