The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Honor and Revenge: A Theory of Punishment (Law and Philosophy Library)

Excellent new book that I just recently purchased that gives a justification for retributive justice. Justice and love protect. Punishment is essentially a defense of the honor of the victim. The book is over a hundred dollars but well worth the price. Here’s the description on the back

This book addresses the problem of justifying the institution of criminal punishment. It examines the “paradox of retribution”: the fact that we cannot seem to reject the intuition that punishment is morally required, and yet we cannot (even after two thousand years of philosophical debate) find a morally legitimate basis for inflicting harm on wrongdoers. The book comes at a time when a new “abolitionist” movement has arisen, a movement that argues that we should give up the search for justification and accept that punishment is morally unjustifiable and should be discontinued immediately. This book, however, proposes a new approach to the retributive theory of punishment, arguing that it should be understood in its traditional formulation that has been long forgotten or dismissed: that punishment is essentially a defense of the honor of the victim. Properly understood, this can give us the possibility of a legitimate moral justification for the institution of punishment.​

One quote from the conclusion:

We have argued that the central purpose of punishment is to restore dignity, self-respect, and honor to the victim, by demonstrating that society does not passively acquiesce in the crime but is willing to risk even life and limb in response to it on behalf of the victim. The goal of defending the honor of the victims seems to be morally unobjectionable even to critics of punishment, and it seems to be more reasonable to expect that retributive motive will always be with us - or as Sharon Krause argues, that we need to preserve the motivation to defend one’s honor, a motive on which our liberties depend. Indeed, we have argued that virtually every current theory of punishment has an underlying retributive motive. ~~ page 190

While I hold that Retributive justice is not primitive and a valid theory of justice it doesn’t say everything about Divine Justice. I go along with Robin Parry’s orthodox view on Divine justice:

In scripture, divine judgment serves various ends. It has, as the tradition rightly points out, a retributive aspect. Someone is punished because they deserve to be. It is not hard to find this instinct in Scripture. But we err if we think that retribution exhausts what Biblical justice and punishment are about. Biblical justice is about putting wrong things right. As such, while retribution may possibly be a necessary condition of justice, it cannot be a sufficient condition, because retribution cannot undo the harms done and put right the wrongs. The primary end of God’s justice, with respect to creation, is not punishment, but salvation. And punishment itself is not merely suffering inflicted as a deserved consequence for wrong deeds. Punishment also functions as a deterrent…Furthermore it is also a corrective for those being punished…And these different purposes of punishment need not be mutually exclusive. God’s punishment of Israel say, can be SIMULTAEOUSLY RETRIBUTIVE AND RESTORATIVE ~~ Robin Parry in Four Views on Hell pages 113-114

The case for the essential continuity and even identity of revenge and retributive punishment is overwhelming, The two words are dictionary synonyms and are more or less interchangeable; if the revenger demands “retribution” we would not have any doubt about what he meant (nor would we ever think that he was referring to an entirely different conceptual system of punishment). As Zaibert points out, when in the Bible God says “Vengeance is Mine,” it is clear that He means retributive punishment, not sadistic pleasure. Both the revenger and the punisher aim at “justice” ~~ page 106

We are to love like Christ and follow His example:

1 Peter 2:

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

My faith is in God who says: “Vengeance is mine I will repay. Rather if your enemy is hungry feed him.” What this means is that I have no right to harbor bitterness towards anyone. The judicial predicament has been broken. When my faith is in God my heart opens up to love others as I am free to forgive as I have been forgiven. This is faith working itself out through love. I simply turn it over to God and let Him handle the situation. He can do a much better job of it then I can. While Vengeance belongs to God He gives some of His authority to the Governing officials. They are not obligated to turn the other cheek. As Paul tells us in Romans: There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…(This authority is) God’s servant for your good…he does not bear the sword in vein. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer." (Romans 13:1-4).

A Time Under Heaven

Let us deal in peace and tenderness
Lest love and compassion become a hindrance
Then unmix the wine and make it sour
Drinking the blood of judgments power
For there’s a time for peace and a time for war
A time to speak and a time to roar
A time to hate and a time to love
A time and season under heaven above

John Piper in “The Satisfied Soul” devotional in the chapter:

Terrorism, Justice, and Loving our Enemies:

But it does not compromise this truth to say that God should also be glorified as the one who governs the world and delegates some of His authority to civil states. Therefore, some of God’s divine rights as God are given to governments for the purposes of restraining evil and maintaining social order under just laws. This is what Paul means when he writes: “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…(This authority is) God’s servant for your good…he does not bear the sword in vein. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:1-4).

God wills that human justice hold sway among governments and between citizens and civil authority. He does not prescribe that governments always turn the other cheek. The government does not bear the sword in vein. Police have the God-given right to use force to restrain evil and bring lawbreakers to justice. And legitimate states have the God-given right to use force to restrain life-threatening aggression and bring criminals to justice.

Therefore, we will magnify the mercy of God by praying for our enemies to be saved and reconciled to God. At the personal level we will be willing to suffer for their everlasting good and we will give them food and drink. We will put away malicious hatred and private vengeance. But at the public level we will also magnify the justice of God by praying and working for justice to be done on earth, if necessary through wise and measured force from God ordained authority.