Punishment for wrongdoing is operative in this world although man has not faced his responsibility in performing it. Paul the Apostle has summed up the principle in the words of Galatians 6:7: “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” This axiom of truth is far-reaching, invading all of creation.
- The Basis for Punishment
Historically the basis for punishment in our society has been man’s belief in God – the God Who is Sovereign over the universe, the God Who has revealed Himself as moral, having a standard of right and wrong with punishment for the wrongdoer. This punishment is not based particularly on its being a deterrent to wrongdoing, but rather as the wage for wrongdoing. Romans 6:23 bears witness in these words, “For the wages of sin is death.”
Today the philosophy of unbelief with its rejection of the living and moral God and the exaltation of man to a supremacy that is subject to no higher power than himself is demanding a hearing in our land. Such a belief is not new, having always been present; but our intellectual climate and our growing freedom of expression have provided man with liberty to accept or reject the declarations of Scripture.
Our concept of right and wrong and the punishment of wrongdoers will be determined on the basis of our belief or unbelief in the living God. Humanism does not believe in God.
Believing that God is and that He alone is the Director of this universe, we must submit to His dictates; and in the realm of punishment we must obey His commands. God rules according to His standard of right and wrong. This includes punishment for wrongdoers!
- Manifestations of Punishment
It is Observed in Creation
Punishment is seen in the operation of natural law. Violation of these laws have their results. To jump off a cliff, expecting a reversal of the law of gravity, in no way stays off a broken body. Punishment is also manifest when one tampers with the animal kingdom. To antagonize the “king of the jungle” would be to receive a recompense of reward.
It is Observed in the Societies of the World
As societies develop, they include regulations and punishments. Even those which fall under the caption of being freedom fighters, a term which implies deep concern for the common man, have punishment – severe punishment – for all who do not conform to the rules. It is difficult to conceive of a society continuing which does not incorporate into its life a system of punishment for offenders.
It is interesting to note that before the Pilgrims landed on the shores of the new world, they covenanted to be ruled by a document which would control each member of the company.
It is Observed in the Scriptures
Believing that God has spoken and that the Bible is that message, we shouldn’t be surprised to find many passages dealing with the subject of punishment.
Punishment Inflicted Directly by God.
Consider the following as examples: Cain (Gen. 4:11-16). When God made His pronouncement, Cain responded, ”My punishment is greater than I can bear.”
The Flood (Gen. 6:1-8:22). Rejection of God’s warning resulted in the removal of that society. When the door of the ark was shut, there was no change in the announced punishment.
Sarai (Gen. 12:17). In protecting His “chosen”, God inflicted punishment on Pharaoh’s house although his offense was in ignorance!
Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). As a definite and shocking example of God’s righteous indignation toward lying – and that to God – these two met immediate physical death.
Punishment Administered by Man.
(Genesis 9:1-7) Disrespect and destruction of human life were the first offenses to be placed under man’s jurisdiction. Capital punishment was to be the consequence of murder. This principle continues throughout Scripture, being affirmed in the New Testament by Christ and the Apostle Paul (Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:1-14).
Exodus-Deuteronomy. “If we knew, we would do,” sums up Israel’s appeal to Moses (Deut. 5:27). This prompted God to give the Law, coupled with specific punishments for those who failed to comply. A careful analysis of Scripture will reveal the severity of punishment accompanying the Law.
- Responsibility in Punishment
Man’s responsibility in punishment is divided between the family, the church and the state. When each is diligent in the task, the entire society functions with a measure of peace and prosperity.
Being ordained of God, the family stands as a very important part of God’s plan for mankind. Although some sociologists don’t accept the family as an absolute, God does. He calls for a man to leave his parents, cleave to his wife and, living together, rear their children according to God’s rules (Gen:24; Matt. 19:6)
Children Need To Be Trained.
No child comes into this world programmed to do that which is right (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:23). Right actions are the result of right training, beginning the first day and including God’s plan of salvation. Life must be directed if it is to develop the kind of character acceptable to God and one that will function in society. In order to accomplish this task there must be a penalty for disobedience (Prov. 22:15; Eph. 6:1-4).
Children Need to Understand Punishment.
Abraham must have been an example of this kind of parent (Gen. 18:19). Having made clear to the child the difference between right and wrong, the rewards and penalties must also be clearly presented (Prov. 22:6).
Parents Must Carry Through in Punishment.
Consider Proverbs 13:24 and 23:13, 14. When rules are established and broken, it is the parents’ responsibility to administer the punishment. If children don’t learn this lesson at home, will they learn it in society? If we neglect our responsibility as parents, can we rightfully criticize state officials who have become soft in administering punishment?
- The Church
It is an established principle in Scripture that all who are born-again believers are to be identified with a local church. In this communion there are certain rules laid down by God, including the discipline of the offenders.
The Guiding Principle (Matt. 18:15-17; I Tim. 3:1-16). A church congregation is responsible to maintain a good testimony in the community. This is possible only when each individual member keeps the rules. If sin is allowed to reign and situations are overlooked which scream for correction, the church is failing in its responsibility.
The state with is rule is ordained of God. It has been authorized to administer punishment on wrongdoers to protect society (Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:1-14). This is a basic principle in the structure of our government.
According to Scripture, governmental officers are just as responsible to God as are gospel ministers. They are commissioned by God to “carry the sword.” They are guardians of human life and are to use all means available to maintain decency and order including capital punishment of those committing deliberately planned murder.
- Growing Softness in Punishment
Today’s softness in punishment reigns from the home to the church to the state. It appears that all too frequently the offender received greater protection than does the offended! The older generation, observing the moral breakdown, blames the younger generation; and the younger generation, beholding the hypocrisy of the day, blames the older generation. Yet all the while there is a philosophy which is sapping the very heart of our great nation.
Why Such Softness Against Crime
God and His Word are excluded. Once God’s Word controlled the decisions of our government and our courts. Punishment was meted out as the just penalty for crimes committed.
Walter Lippmann saw this change coming in his day. In his book, The Preface to Morals (1929), he showed that a switch from the living and true God to the created god of the liberal mind would change the moral standards and stamina of America. His conclusion is apparent today!
To teach that man is the product of evolution without responsibility to the supreme God and that there is no destiny beyond the few days of this life which is destined to annihilation, is to foster an attitude of “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
Once again to the Scriptures we find that when “the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Prov. 29:2). The designation “wicked” in this text is used in the Old Testament of those who walk apart from God’s Word and His authority! Without question the answer to our plight in regard to honest punishment for crimes committed will be realized only through a spiritual revival which enthrones God and His moral standard of right and wrong!