Guest essay by Stephen McDowell
Who is at fault, and can we do anything to prevent future murders?
Murder is an evil act which must be condemned and dealt with in a proper way to diminish future murders and create a culture of life. Murder has existed since the fall of mankind, and has waxed and waned in various societies based upon their faith and worldview.
The prevalence of murder in America has increased in recent times, especially since the early 1960s. At that time God and His Word were publicly rejected and extirpated from government schools, although Christian ideas and morals had been under assault long before.
Our public schools have taught for generations that man is an accident of nature, and that he is an amoral being with no more value than animals. We should, therefore, not be surprised when men act like animals and treat others with little regard. We have kicked God and His moral standards out of our schools, and then we bemoan the consequences of people acting upon the relativistic ideology engrained in them. We violate God’s laws of justice and reject His criminal penalties and wonder why we have a growing culture of crime.
Who is to blame for the recent shootings and mass murders?
Regarding the recent shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue, some people have attempted to blame President Trump. However, it is not the rhetoric from the President that caused this. Rather, in a general sense, it is the rhetoric from the school rooms. Such crimes have increased because we have failed to teach the nature of fallen man and the righteous standards of the Creator. Sinners will act like sinners. We must restrain the fallen nature of man by teaching God’s moral standards, and by teaching and executing the consequences for violating those standards.
The Cause of Murder and Crime
To properly deal with murderous and criminal actions in society, we must first understand what causes such behavior. The Bible teaches that violence and crime are caused by evil in men’s hearts.
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…. Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. (Gen. 6:5, 11)
The fall of man brought about corruption in the heart of man, which manifested itself externally with violence and murder. God established civil government in the earth as the means of restraining evil doers and protecting law-abiding citizens (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 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.
Why Does Crime Flourish?
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” (Eccl. 8:11). Swift execution of God’s justice is necessary to keep a culture of crime from growing in a nation.
What can individuals and governments do to combat crime? Understanding that sin and evil in men’s heart is the cause of crime reveals that preaching the Gospel and seeing individuals 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 His Holy Spirit to enable him to follow His blueprint for all of life. This is why crime diminishes when Christianity comes to a community. Where 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 completed eliminated from this world, therefore, civil government has a vital role in bringing tranquility and quietness to this life (1 Tim. 2:2). The Bible says, “When a ruler executes judgment, he scatters away all evil” (Prov. 20:8) and “The king gives stability to the land by justice” (Prov. 29:4). Thus, civil leaders should administer God’s justice in a timely fashion (while taking into account the provisions to protect people from false charges), protect law-abiding citizens, and punish criminals in accordance with Biblical guidelines.
Biblical Means of Dealing with Crime
What is crime and how should a society deal with it?
Crime is rooted in the sinful nature of man. Sin is acting contrary to God’s standard as revealed in His Law-Word. Crime is unlawful behavior (as delineated by God in His Word) that usually threatens the life, liberty, or property of others, either directly (such as robbery or murder) or indirectly (such as treason). There is criminal activity that potentially only affects one’s own person, such as drug use. Such activity is still an assault on life (and our lives are not our own since God who created us ultimately owns us; we are merely stewards of our bodies).
Crime comes under the jurisdiction of the state or civil government. While all crimes (as defined by God, but not necessarily the state) are sins, all sins are not crimes punishable by civil authorities. Many sins (violation of God’s Law-Word) are outside the jurisdiction of the state; some sins are to be dealt with by the family, some by the church, and many by God Himself. It is very important that civil leaders understand the distinction of crime and sin, the source of crime, and how to administer God’s justice when crime is committed.
Civil governments throughout history have declared many actions to be criminal that according to God are not criminal at all, including reading the Bible and worshiping God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience. Where laws exist that are contrary to God’s higher law, it is the duty of Christians to seek to change these. Sometimes men have criminalized bad behavior, with the goal of limiting behavior that was not criminal according to God, but rather was sinful, or potentially sinful. The Eighteen Amendment to the United States Constitution is one such example. This well-intended but ill-conceived prohibition amendment, adopted in 1919, caused more problems than it attempted to solve and was eventually repealed in 1933.
Some use prohibition to proclaim we cannot legislate morality, nor should we try to legislate morality. However, every law is a legislation of someone’s morality. Murder and theft are moral issues. Enacting laws against these actions is a legislation of morality. The important question is, “whose morality should we legislate?” There are really only two answers: either’s God’s morality (which He reveals in His Word, the Bible) or man’s. While all law legislates morality, it is very important to understand that man cannot legislate good. Laws cannot change the heart of man; they cannot elevate men above the level of their faith and morality.
As mentioned earlier, a society must understand the source of crime before they can effectively deal with crime. The Bible clearly states that wickedness and sin in the heart of man is the source of crime (Gen. 6:5, 11). As a result of man’s sin – that is, disobedience to God – evil entered his heart. What was in the heart of man manifested itself in his actions (the world was filled with violence). Recognizing the true nature of man – he is a sinful, fallen being in need of a savior – is the beginning place for a society to correctly deal with crime. Both preventative and corrective measures must be taken.
Preventative — Teach Truth and Biblical Morality
Since crime is a result of evil in the heart of man, transformation of the heart is the ultimate preventative measure, and since only God can change a heart, preaching the Gospel is the best thing we can do to lower crime. Since only the true and living God – the God of the Bible – can change a heart, nations where Christianity has the greatest influence have the greatest weapon to reduce crime.
Following transformation is the need to teach God’s standards of conduct. These serve as the plumb line for how we should live. While Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit to help them live right, these standards impact non-Christians also. Thus, we must lift up God’s standards, which are summarized in the Ten Commandments, within our nation and teach them to everyone. We must teach the Bible not only in churches but also in schools and everywhere ideas are presented. The Founders of America understood and did this very thing.
Signer of the Constitution, James McHenry, said:
The Holy Scriptures … can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability, and usefulness. In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions.
Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration and father of American medicine, wrote:
In contemplating the political institutions of the United States, I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them. We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government, that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of christianity by the means of the bible. For this Divine book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and those sober and frugal virtues, which constitute the soul of republicanism.
Imparting the principles of the Ten Commandments to all Americans is just what is needed to diminish murders and to most effectively deal with the 2.2 million criminals in jail today.
Corrective — Biblical Means of Punishment
It is better to prevent crime than to attempt to correct the effects of crime after it is committed. If a crime is committed, the Bible provides the best means of how to deal with it.
The emphasis of God’s law in dealing with criminal acts is restitution to the victim and restoration of Godly order. The Roman idea of punishing the criminal is what is predominant in our criminal system today. The penalties in Biblical law for stealing have the goal of establishing Godly order, of cleansing and healing man to live in God’s order.
Remember that all sins are not crimes, thus if God’s law is violated, it should be handled by the appropriate jurisdiction and with an appropriate penalty. We should discern if it is the responsibility of the family, church, or state (or God Himself) to administer God’s justice. In addition, when executing the penalty we should remember God’s mercy and His justice. A thorough knowledge of God’s Word (the Bible) is necessary for this.
In brief, here are the biblical penalties for criminal behavior (that is, violating Biblical civil law) as given to the Hebrew Republic:
- Restitution for theft (Ex. 22:1 ff). Work (via servitude) to make restitution for those unable to pay.
- Corporal punishment and/or fines for minor offenses (Lev. 19:14; Dt. 22:13-21; Num. 5:5-10; Lev. 5:14-16; Lev. 6:1-7). For sins of negligence and inadvertence (Num. 5:5-10; Lev. 5:14-16) and minor offenses of a deliberate nature involving property (Lev. 6:1-7), the principal plus 20% was to be restored.
- Death for serious offenses against life or incorrigibility (Ex. 21:12-16; Ex. 22:19-27; Lev. 20:10-21; Dt. 21:18-21).
- City of refuge for accidental death (Num. 35; Dt. 19:1-13).
God’s punishment for willful murder is the death penalty. This is clearly taught in the Old Testament and is affirmed in the New Testament. To learn biblical principles of capital punishment (including addressing the arguments of those opposed to the death penalty) and for an elaboration of each of the penalties mentioned above, order Crime and Punishment: A Biblical Perspective.
Goal of Restitution and of Restoration of Godly Order
The ultimate goal of God’s penalties for crime is the establishment of His Kingdom (His righteousness, peace, and joy) in the earth. God’s means of dealing with criminals brings restitution to the victim and restoration of Godly order. When a thief has to make restitution, he is growing in the character and self-government necessary for citizens to possess for a free and just society. Removing evil men through capital punishment brings more peace and order to a nation. The biblical goal in dealing with criminals is to extend God’s Kingdom in the earth, personally and in society at large.
Swift execution of justice, restitution, penalties commensurate with the crime, and capital punishment will bring Godly order. God’s Kingdom should be our mind at all phases. Even if capital punishment applies in a sentence of a criminal, judges should be looking to establish His Kingdom. Jesus can forgive the sins of criminals and they can be born into His Kingdom, but they still must pay for their civil crimes. Good judges are those who execute God’s laws justly and swiftly, always having God’s Kingdom in mind. Such was Thomas McKean.
Thomas McKean was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, one of the authors of the constitutions of Pennsylvania and Delaware, a governor of each of these states, a legal authority (writing Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States of America, 1792), and a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. As Chief Justice he presided over a trial where John Roberts was sentenced to death for treason. After delivering the sentence Chief Justice McKean gave this advice to Roberts:
You will probably have but a short time to live. Before you launch into eternity, it behooves you to improve the time that may be allowed you in this world: it behooves you most seriously to reflect upon your past conduct; to repent of your evil deeds; to be incessant in prayers to the great and merciful God to forgive your manifold transgressions and sins; to teach you to rely upon the merit and passion of a dear Redeemer, and thereby to avoid those regions of sorrow—those doleful shades where peace and rest can never dwell, where even hope cannot enter. It behooves you to seek the [fellowship], advice, and prayers of pious and good men; to be [persistent] at the Throne of Grace, and to learn the way that leadeth to happiness. May you, reflecting upon these things, and pursuing the will of the great Father of light and life, be received into [the] company and society of angels and archangels and the spirits of just men made perfect; and may you be qualified to enter into the joys of Heaven—joys unspeakable and full of glory!
We need a criminal justice system and judges like this today, where there are swift and fair trials, an upholding of Godly standards, and a presentation of God’s Kingdom and mercy to the end.
What Can We Do?
Our current justice system is far from the biblical model. It needs much transformation. Each of us can take part in changing it. Here are four things we can do:
- Preach the Gospel and see individuals converted.
- Build self-government and Christian character in yourself and those around you.
- Teach God’s precepts throughout society, and work to have them taught in our schools.
- Work to establish Godly leaders and judges who will implement God’s means of dealing with law-breakers (and who will restrain from being thieves themselves).
Murder will never end until the return of Christ and the end of this age. But we can diminish it and other criminal activity by implementing God’s preventative and corrective measures for dealing with crime. In so doing we will be helping to restore earth to God’s original order where life is highly honored and secure.
- Libertarians argue that individuals should be free to take whatever drugs or be involved in whatever activities they want to as long as they are not harming the life, liberty, or property of anyone else, but, since we belong to God and must seek to preserve our own bodies, some activities that threaten our lives can be criminalized. In addition, when we destroy our own lives, the lives, liberty, and/or property of others are almost always assaulted as well. Wisdom is needed to determine what drugs should be considered illegal because an excess of almost anything can kill us, including eating food. However, good food is essential for life, while many drugs have no benefit and only bring destruction.
- Prohibition was passed with the laudable goal of reducing drunkenness and its bad effects. Consuming alcohol is not sinful in itself, though excess consumption is a sin, as the Bible repeatedly warns against this. Drunkenness can lead to criminal behavior and it would be legitimate for governments to declare some related behavior as criminal, such as drunk driving. The ultimate solution to drunkenness is transformation of the heart and mind of men by the power and truth of God.
- Bernard C. Steiner, One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland, Baltimore: Maryland Bible Society, 1921, p. 14.
- Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical, Philadelphia: printed by Thomas and William Bradford, 1806, p. 113.
- William B. Reed, Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1847, pp. 36-37.
The Providence Foundation published the original of this article in the November 2018 Providential Perspective e-newsletter.
Stephen McDowell is co-founder and President of the Providence Foundation, a nonprofit Christian educational organization which mission seeks to spread liberty, justice, and prosperity among the nations by educating individuals in a Biblical worldview.
© 2019 Used by Permission
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