A Biblical perspective on crime and punishment

Crime is rampant throughout the world and Antigua is no exception. Different countries combat crime in different ways with varying degrees of success. To properly deal with crime in society, we must first understand what causes crime. The Bible teaches that crime is caused by evil in men’s hearts.

“Then God saw that wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually: The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence”. (Genesis 6:5.11).

The fall of man brought about corruption in the heart of man, which manifested itself externally with violence, murder, theft, and all manner of criminal behaviour. God established civil government in the earth as the means of restraining evildoers and protecting law-abiding citizens (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14). It was given the use of the sword to enforce its authority to protect the life, liberty, and property of the people.

If civil government does not fulfill its duty to restrain criminals in accordance with Biblical guidelines then crime will flourish. Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “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.” Swift execution of God’s justice is necessary to keep a culture of crime from growing in our country.

What can individuals and the government do to combat crime? One must understand that sin and evil in men’s heart is the cause of crime and therefore the preaching of the Gospel and seeing that individuals are converted to Christ is the only way to ultimately reduce crime in a nation. Only God through the atoning work of Christ can change man’s heart and give him a new nature, one that seeks to obey God and live in conformity to His law. God not only gives man a new heart, but He empowers Him with the Holy Spirit to enable him to follow his blueprint for all of life. This is why crime diminishes when Christianity comes to a community. When Christian revivals have occurred in history, courts and jails have become empty and police officers have had little to do.

Since men are fallen and sinful, crime will never be completely eliminated from this world, therefore, civil government has a vital role in bringing tranquility and quietness to this life (1 Timothy 2;2). The Bible says, ‘When a ruler executes judgment, he scatters away all evil” (Proverbs 20:8) and “The king gives stability to the land by justice” (Proverbs 29:4). Thus civil leaders should administer God’s justice in a timely fashion (while taking into account the provision to protect people from false charges), protect law-abiding citizens, and punish criminals in accordance with Biblical principles.

It is apparent that we as a nation have serious problems. Ever so often, crime occurs against someone’s property through theft, robbery, burglary, fraud, embezzlement, etc. Many crimes go unreported and of those reported, obviously, some will never be solved. In a small country like ours, we are saddened by the increase of capital and other violent crimes – such as murder, rape, aggravated assault and even kidnapping. Regrettably, in some instances, those who are supposed to be law-keepers become law-breakers and perpetrators in some of these offences.

The victims of crime suffer the most and pay the largest price, however, the cost to the public is great as well. Since our criminal system operates upon he pagan Roman idea of retribution toward the criminal (as opposed to the Biblical idea of restitution to the victim and restoration of Godly order), we punish criminals by putting them in prison. Increased crime has resulted in serious overcrowding in our lone jail (1735), which is seriously overcrowded. A facility which was built to house 150 persons, now has over 300 inmates and we are told that it costs the government $40,000 per year to house one inmate. Would it not be cheaper to send them to college?

Does our criminal punishment system work? Do citizens feel safer today than in times past? Is our society growing more tranquil and quiet? Recent indicators say “no.”

Prison is supposed to be a correctional institution; the problem is what type of correction occurs to effect a change. The rate of recidivism is about 75 per cent, and in reality, the prison has now become a center of violence, where many low level criminals learn how to be greater criminals.

Our present system does not work. God has a better way to deal with law breakers and such instructions are contained in the Holy Scriptures.

Burl Cain, who is a warden of Angola, which was once termed “America’s bloodiest prison” was able to transform that institution by embarking on a strategy he called “moral rehabilitation.” This allowed men to participate in faith-based programmes while they remained incarcerated.

In Cain’s words: “As my career as a warden evolved, I had come to realise that criminals are very selfish people. It is so simple to understand. They take your life, your property, anything they want for themselves. They don’t ask. They just sneak around, lie, steal, kill, whatever they want. I realized that I could teach them to read and write, could help them learn them skills and trade – but without moral rehabilitation, I would only be creating a smarter criminal.’

When we have this mindset, we will be able to see a transforming God at work who is able to effect the type of changes which will certainly help and aid in the reduction of crime. Remember, crime is a heart issue, which only God alone can cure.