Thursday, November 12, 2009

When forgiveness is wrong

The news today reports the tragic story of a teenage rapist - tragic, that is, for his victims. He raped a seven-year old boy and was tried. The seven-year old's parents - committed Christians - said at his trial that they forgave the boy and wanted his sentence to reflect that. He was given a three-year community order. Eight days later, he raped a five-year old boy whose father says the crime has destroyed the whole family.

We've become familiar with such stories of forgiveness, often the 'forgiveness' of terrorist attackers and often, if not usually, because the victims are Christians. It's hard not to admire the grace of those who offer forgiveness under such circumstances; harder still to criticise them.

But they're wrong. Scripure commands that we are to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. Does our Father in heaven forgive? Yes, of course. Who does he forgive? Those who repent, and only those who repent.

Sin, according to the Bible, must be punished. And it always is punished - either the sinner himself is punished in hell for all eternity, or the Saviour is punished in the sinner's place on Calvary's cross.

Crime, too, according to the Bible, should be punished: the state wields the sword (Romans 13:4) as God's representative for that very purpose. The state has no duty to forgive, and no right to forgive, either, as far as I can see.

When the well-meaning Christian mixes his 'forgiveness' with the weakness of the State in punishment, the innocent are bound to suffer. And the sufferer may only be five years old.

For more on forgiveness, from a truly Biblical perspective, see Chris Brauns' book 'Unpacking Forgiveness'.


Ben Stevenson said...

Quite right.

As Christians we are told not to take revenge, not because people should not be punished for their crimes, but to leave room for God's wrath.

"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord." -- Romans 12:19

However, whether or not the Christians were right to ask for leniency, our country's justice system too often gives very lenient sentences, e.g. four years for killing a man, five years for causing someone's death by drowning, six years for killing a child.

Stephen said...

Chris Brauns has also written a great article at Ref21: Packing Unforgiveness.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Excellent post.

There is a closely related issue. There seems to be a belief among many people in modern Britain that the feelings of victims and their relatives should be taken into account in sentencing convicted criminals.

The implication is that criminals who attack vindictive people should be punished more severely than those who attack forgiving people.

This seems, to me, to be illogical and unjust.

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