According to JD Walters:
“But when we really think about it, although we feel that punishment should be meted out for wrongdoing, is it true that justice has actually been done? So the Nazi officers who were tried and sentenced to death at Nuremberg got what they deserved...but their victims are still dead, and the survivors traumatized. The husband of a murdered wife may feel a sense of satisfaction watching the murderer go to the electric chair, but the wife is still gone, and nothing, not even the satisfaction of seeing punishment meted out can fully compensate for that loss.”
i) Of course, this confuses mundane punishment with everlasting punishment. Mundane punishment was never meant to be adequate. That’s what hell is for.
ii) It also assumes that the only rationale for retributive punishment is pragmatic. If it compensates for the wrong. But this overlooks the fact that justice is worthwhile in its own right.
iii) What is JD’s notion of adequate compensation, exactly? Is this a time-travel scenario whereby God turns back the clock to prevent the original crime?
“I suggest that what really lies behind our desire for justice is not for punishment to be meted out, but things to be made right.”
Which assumes that punishing the wicked is not a part of making things right.
“Let me illustrate with a less dramatic example. Suppose a thief breaks into my house and steals a priceless heirloom. The thief is caught without the heirloom ever being found, and is sentenced to pay a fine or goes to jail. Yes, that may be appropriate, but what I really want is my heirloom back. The punishment of the thief does not compensate for the loss of the heirloom. Now imagine that a thief steals the heirloom, but feels guilty about it (and really guilty, not just worried that he might be caught, but guilty because he realizes he's done me wrong) and returns it to me with sincere apologies. Is there any need for me to report the incident to the police? If I am impressed with his remorse and have recovered the heirloom, why should any further punishment be necessary? And even if I don't recover the heirloom, but the thief comes to me in remorse and promises to do whatever is in his power to make it up to me, why should I not forgive him? The thief's remorse might even be the opportunity for us to become friends, to be reconciled and no longer at cross purposes.”
But that’s a fairly trivial example.
“But what if the following conditions held: suppose the perpetrators of genocide were to become fully aware of the enormity of their crimes and were overwhelmed with remorse (again not just because they were caught but because they realized how deeply they wronged and violated their victims), all the hurt and suffering of the victims were completely erased so that the dead came back to life and wounds healed, including their memories so that they did not even remember the pain and anguish of their persecution, and a new society appeared in which it would be impossible for any further abuses to take place? Would we still demand that the perpetrators suffer?”
i) That’s a false dichotomy. I can imagine many victims who desire both retribution and restoration. They want their loved ones back. They want to feel whole again. But they also want to see the perpetrators punished. It isn’t one or the other, but both.
ii) What does JD think his hypothetical corresponds to in real world terms? Does he think God reunites all survivors and victims? Does he think God erases traumatic memories?
iii) Do survivors and victims want to share eternity with the perpetrators? Even if Josef Mengele were contrite, does this mean his victims want to spend eternity in the company of a penitent Josef Mengele?
iv) An obvious problem with JD’s scenario is that heinous crimes can also have some consequences which the victim or survivor doesn’t wish to reverse. Suppose a woman’s fiancé is murdered. As a result, she marries another man, has children by another man.
In one respect she’d still like to have her fiancé back. But not if the cost of restoring the status quo ante means undoing the life she had with her husband and kids.
“It seems to me that retributive justice is an accommodation to our fallen condition. Jesus said that it was because of the hardness of the Israelites' hearts that Moses allowed people to divorce (Matthew 19:8), and it seems that the same is true for the whole scheme of retribution.”
That’s not a real argument. Just bathos.
“In this fallen world we are often confronted with wrongdoers we don't know are truly repentant (or that we do know actually aren't), the majority of crimes cause harm which cannot be taken back, undone or made up for…”
i) It’s true that retributive justice presupposes the fall. But so does what JD is pleased to call “restorative justice.”
ii) Why does JD think we live in a fallen world to begin with? Was that a divine mistake? Is God working overtime to rectify the accidental fall?
Yes, retributive justice presupposes the fall, but the fall was a divinely intended event. Indeed, that supplies the necessary backdrop for mercy and justice.
“In such a condition, the only compensation that those who lose a loved one to murder can get is the satisfaction of knowing that the murderer is being punished. And in order to maintain its authority, the state has no choice but to uphold the law and mete out punishment. Note however that this is only partial compensation: it is not justice, because the loved one is still dead, and the murderer may still be unrepentant. True justice would be for things to be made right: the dead loved one restored to life, and the murderer repentant.”
That simply begs the question of what constitutes “true justice.”
“And in fact, due to our sinful condition, retribution itself can become an injustice, when the desire for revenge demands punishment out of all proportion with the crime.”
i) But that’s a straw man. The question at issue is divine justice. The Day of Judgment.
ii) Moreover, Scripture doesn’t regard the demand for retribution as inherently sinful. Consider eschatological setting of Rev 6:10.
iii) Furthermore, Scripture doesn’t treat forgiveness and retribution as mutually exclusive. To the contrary, God forgives the redeemed because he exacted punishment on the Redeemer. Penal substitution lays the foundation for divine forgiveness.
“What is surprising then is that throughout history the chief proponents of restorative justice have also been the ones that experienced the most horrific injustices.”
I don’t see many survivors of the Holocaust or Killing Fields, &c., penning books on universalism.
“Because he [Martin Luther King] was convinced that God was a God of justice and love, he had the courage to bear injustice without striking back, just as Jesus did as he was going to his death. He was convinced that ultimately love and reconciliation would prevail.”
i) Jesus is the Judge (2 Thes 1) as well as the Redeemer. The Lamb of God’s wrath (Rev 6) as well as the paschal lamb.
ii) In Scripture, divine forgiveness is contingent on repentance and retribution. We don’t have unconditional forgiveness in Scripture, where God forgives the impenitent.
iii) In my observation, I don’t see JD actually following in the footsteps of King. He helps himself to that touchy-feely rhetoric, but in real life he holds grudges. He doesn’t extend blanket forgiveness to those who have (allegedly) slighted him.