Forgiveness and the Law

Friday, April 1, 2011

Newspaper headlines cried, "Protesters inquire forgiveness for killer." record after record proclaimed that citizens believe that criminals should be forgiven. One someone quoted said, "As a society, we must forgive those who are sorry for their crimes. We are taught to forgive."

For years the above attitude involved me, but I wasn't able to give concrete reasons as to why I disagreed. However, I finally have the answer: Only citizen who are wronged can forgive the criminal, and forgiveness and legal consequences are two dissimilar things.

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If a reckless speeder hits me in front of my house, I can forgive the driver since I was the one hurt. However, if the speeding car strikes my neighbor, I cannot forgive, nor not forgive, because I was not the someone harmed. Plus, if the someone suffering from the urgency forgives the speeder, the driver must still face the legal consequences of his or her actions. My "forgiving" the one who injures my neighbor is not literally forgiveness because I am a by-stander, not anything involved.

Jesus stated that the citizen of His time were to render under Caesar what is Caesar's (Caesar representing the government) and unto God what is God's (God being the moral, the righteous). In other words, citizen are to follow the law and take the consequences if they don't.

In our permissive world, we have mixed the two: What is God's and what is the government's (the law's) are intermingled in areas that they shouldn't be. Forgiveness by individuals or even the church leaders does not negate the penitents' enforcement to face their fates agreeing to the law.

In countries or states with capital punishment, murders know the penalty if caught, found guilty, and given the death penalty. The family and friends of the victim do have the right, and maybe even the obligation, to forgive the killers; however, that forgiveness does not mitigate the fact that the criminal deliberately took the life of an additional one someone and faces the consequences. Nor should forgiveness by those harmed take away the blame and resulting punishment.

The seminar that a criminal repents is not a valid excuse for his not facing the results of his actions. As someone with a close relative who has spent much of his adult life in prison, I know personally that prisons and jails are filled with repentant inmates, and with many who claim they to be innocent. (On a side note, I comprehend that some innocent citizen do end up in prison, but the large majority of inmates are guilty as charged.) I also know from first hand sense that many that repent are sorry they were caught. Also for a large number, jail house religion soon disappears after the prisoner is released. Therefore, being sorry for one's actions or being forgiven by the victim or victims should not erase the consequences of a crime. Legal consequences and moral forgiveness are two dissimilar components of life.

I may forgive the man who murdered my niece, and I may forgive the relative whose actions brought "shame" to my family, but I cannot and should not turn the legal rendering. We all need to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's.

Forgiveness and the Law

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