Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Crime & Punishment

Saddam Hussein speaking at his trial.Image via Wikipedia
My new reader Arthur has presented some excellent comments over the last few days.  This one is in response to my post on the execution of Saddam Hussein:

Sooo... you are against all forms of maximum force even if they meant the protection of those principles and persons that you hold near and dear? Do you think that timeouts, conflict resolution, the UN, and other slaps on the wrist, with declarations of this is "inappropriate", will deter the most stubborn and incorrigibles such as the Saddams, Hitlers, Pol pots, Pinochets of the world? Hah, they will laugh in your face. ;) This will not get any respect from the bad guys, who won't take you seriously to desist in their nefarious ways.

It is too bad, that the world requires police, military and other purveyors of maximum force. Heck, if you read the Book of Revelation, I believe, in it, God Himself has been forced by His rebellious creatures into a universal war where there will be wounded, killed and captured so to speak. He didn't invent sin. However, rebellious creatures make it necessary to fight to set the whole groaning Creation and its suffering members ultimate relief from decay, death, and evil. I hate to say it freedom costs blood and lives. This is a natural consequence of living in a universe of free moral agents whom God gives some free rein to, who tend to abuse their freedoms and oppress others. It isn't violence that is bad in and of itself, but rather the motivations and goals behind it. The defence of what is Good, using defensive deterence, works however one may deny it. Vengeance is part of it, but so what, what is wrong with balancing the scales of justice. Blood cries out for Blood .
It is only natural. What is wrong is when one gloats and glories in it, then you might start to become what you hate. Not all killing is murder, some of it is justifiable self-defence. Of course, I realize it can be a slippery slope.

Joke: a liberal is a conservative who has not been mugged yet.

Until you experience bullying, disrespect, and what not in your own personal life, where there is no one else to stand up for you. I suspect that you will continue to have this naive view of life where everything is wonderful. Yeah, but usually you have someone else do the fighting for you. Try doing it yourself, then you will see what I mean.

This Neville Chamberlain appeasement of Hitler approach to life will just get you
steamrolled by evil. Enough Said?

I hope Susan reads this. He called my POV naive.  He's wrong about what I believe. But, it's always cool when someone calls me naive anyway.  I like being "naive".  Back to Arthur- I'm not a pacifist.  I can only assume from your comments you think I am.  I'm not saying it's wrong to be a pacfist. But, I'm not one.  When I wrote about the execution of Saddam, it was not an anti-violence post or anti-war or anti-self defense.  Saddam's execution had nothing to do with self-defense.  Surely, you cannot be seriously claiming that Iraq executed a 69  year old deposed and imprisoned man, in self-defense.  Saddam was executed in the name of justice, not defense.  These are very different things.  I am not against "all forms of maximum force".  Sometimes evil must be resisted.  Sometimes, in this fallen world, violence is even necessary. Executing Saddam was not one of those times.  Taking a defenseless man and hanging him is, in no way, self-defense.

But, now to the more interesting part of this comment.  You say that G-d has been "forced" into a universal war. Fascinating perspective.  Hardly biblical though. So, I wonder where it comes from. The Bible says that God is in control.  The Bible says that God is the Creator of everything.  I take it your view is God created this whole mess, let it get out of hand and now we have to suffer the consequences while He fights to regain control.  I guess God was surprised by what happened in the Garden (even though He is the one who put the Tree of Knowledge and the snake into the Garden).  No, Arthur, God is not out of control or fighting evil; while losing many of His beloved Children.  I don't have a naive view of life where everything is wonderful. This world is fallen.  But, it's fallen by design. I hate the evil and violence in our world and I will do all I can to resist it.  But, I will not resort to thinking that somehow God is surprised by it, incapable of stopping it or losing people to to it.

In reply to another post Arthur writes:

You know from a common sense point of view I don't think it is a stretch to say that the systems of justice and mercy on the earth are that different from those in heaven which are more perfect. I don't think God plays dice with the universe as He has this wonderful stamp of consistency everywhere in creation. When God entered time as Jesus, He forever hallowed our human flesh and so He is not above His creation so to speak He is also part of it. Therefore, the proportional punishments that we earthlings use to punish the wicked are also reflected in a principle of proportionality in heaven albeit He sees and knows everything to the thought and intents of our hearts.

You cannot fool God. He knows! He is not unjust. He is what He is. As the scriptures say, our God is a consuming fire and nothing unholy can stand in His presence. Thus, those who by the free exercise of their free will opt to choose evil and do not repent... become constituently less and less like Him. And so, that Fire that is Him would naturally be lethal to such beings.What is not of Him will be consumed. God cannot help what He is. He is an Eternal Being who was, is, and is to come. Hell is a severe mercy as that is the only place in creation where He ultimately
respects the free will of his recalcitrant, rebellious creatures. He is a gentlemen, who will not tyrannically override the free will of all free moral agents in the universe. Because to my mind, Universalism fails here, the evil ones must be permitted to be evil and continue on their path of self-destructions especially if they have willed it. God no doubt gives many chances during the lifetime of a person. But His foreknowledge of outcomes, knows what is ultimately futile or worth saving. We cannot second guess our Creator. Heck, even on earth, there is such a thing as consent to living saving treatments and advanced directives, don't you think God is at least like that. He will not foist treatment on the unwilling even if it means their own good.  Unless, there is even an iota of willingness. He ultimately respects free will.

We can choose by degrees as far as we are able to become more like Him and so the scriptures say, when we see Him we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He really is. I suppose that refers to the Elect of God.  God would not be a God if He forever permitted evil to exist and plague the universe getting away scott-free. Now, that would be unjust. We all have to expiate sins and their temporal effects somehow in this life or the next. If not, suffer the eternal consequences.  Uncomfortable truths, but they are part of what Christ taught. The Master must not be denied. Let everyman be a liar, and God be True.

Arthur, I agree with a lot of what you've said here.  So, let's start with the positive. 
  • God is just
  • We cannot fool God
  • The earthly systems of justice and mercy are (or should be)  reflections of God's justice and mercy
  • Proportional punishment (in terms of the earthly justice systems) are morally right
  • We should strive to be more like God
  • God would not be God if He permitted evil to exist forever

I know people who would just jump at the chance to debate you on "free will" and just how much control we have over our eternal destinies.  But, since that's such a complicated subject, let's just agree for the moment that we do have the ability to choose to become more like God (or not).  It'll make things simpler.  But, I do want to recommend Martin Zender's "The Really Bad Thing About Free Will" to you.  I think it'll blow your mind.  Click the link for a short description of the (very short) book.

My friend, I'm afraid your idea of justice is very distorted. It sounds to me like you interchange the word punishment or what I would call retribution for justice.  I can understand why that is.  A lot of people seem to be satisfied with the idea of an "eye for an eye". Our justice system uses this idea of proportional punishment to try to maintain order in a world where people harm each other if they don't have outside boundaries.  But, that doesn't mean that divine justice is just like our legal system and I'll give you several reasons why.  This is going to be quick and dirty.  But, if you'd like detail, please, please, please read this post "Justice-why we need to add a book to the Bible" and read George MacDonald's sermon Justice linked to from there.  If you do, I don't think your idea of justice will ever be the same again (at least hopefully not).

This idea that God must mete out proportional punishment is based on the notion that God is a "just judge".  It neglects the fact that God is also our Father, and more importantly, our Creator and our Lover.  This image of a schizophrenic God has the Father God, the Creator God and the Lover God bound by the Judge God to do things that would be unthinkable and unspeakable to any earthly father, a lover or a Creator.  He is bound by this system to inflict punishment that He would otherwise choose not to inflict.  Honestly, I do think God is a "just judge". I just have a different idea of what just means and what justice is.

There are two basic types or motives for punishment. Actually, the punishment itself might be exactly the same but done for different motives. Retribution or revenge is one type.  Correction, rehabilitation or discipline is another- the punishment is inflicted to deter future bad behavior.  A responsible parent inflicts punishment on his child to teach the child. What father punishes his child as "pay back"? None that I know of.   Now, in our legal system, we punish for the purposes of deterrent (to the perpetrator and to others who would follow his example) and we punish for rehabilitation- both of these are essentially for correction.  Unfortunately, people think we also punish for vengeance.  Perhaps we do. But, that should not be why the legal system metes out punishment.  And, I would argue it is not why our legal system punishes.  Have you ever noticed our punishment is rarely ever like for like (eye for an eye); except in the case of where money is stolen, we do not do to the perpetrator what he did to his victim.  We don't rape rapists. We don't beat sadists.  We don't shoot people who shoot other people. Our punishments are "civilized" being monetary or time in prison.  You say we our systems of justice and mercy aren't all that different than they would be in heaven.  I agree, to a point.  So, what would we say about a legal system that tortures people, indefinitely, forever?  Yet, the idea of Eternal Conscious Torment is ascribed to the Most Holy and Just Being in the Universe.  Even if you believe in retributive punishment, what is proportional about Eternal Conscious Torment?

You say that God is a gentleman who will not override the free will of moral agents.  Let's say I agree.  What is gentlemanly about eternally and consciously tormenting your "enemies"? How is it respective of free will to torment people for choosing incorrectly?  You mix a couple of concepts here that I can't bring together- proportional punishment and Eternal Torment (you chose to use the word "consequences" instead of torment- Eternal "consequences").

Just to wrap it up here for now.  Universalism does not espouse that God continues to allow evil to flourish.  Quite the contrary.  Universalism believes the Bible when it says God will be all in all.  Universalism believes that God will eradicate every bit of evil from the universe.  But, God will not destroy His Sons and Daughters in the process.  God is a consuming fire and will burn away all that is impure within us. But, a goldsmith doesn't destroy the gold he is refining. Universalism doesn't disbelieve that God punishes (necessarily), but that God punishes with the intention of correction and bring us closer to Herself.

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