How should a Christian proceed (as the injured party) at the trial of criminals? Should he forgive them?
From the very beginning it is very important to understand that…
We cannot judge our brethren in public trials
In the First Epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote:
Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to form the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so that there is not among you anyone wise who will be able to decide between his brothers and sisters, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather suffer the wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves do wrong and defraud. And this to your brothers and sisters! (1 Corinthians 6:1-8 NASB)
The apostle Paul calls public judgments to be judgments of the wicked, and that Christians, when they have disagreements with one another, should not go to those judgments, but the judgment must be made within the church. As long as one is a member of a church and has a conflict with another member of the church, the judgment must be made within the church and both must conform to the judgment of the church. If he does not comply with this judgment and insists on his injustice, then he will be expelled from the church.
As for our dealings with unbelievers, Scripture teaches us…
Live in peace with all people as far as it depends on us
If there is a conflict that usually causes people to go to public court, let us seek to resolve it as far as it depends on us peacefully, without going to trial. But, I warn you, as far as it depends on us, because it does not always depend on us and it is not always possible to solve it without a trial. Here is how God teaches us on this subject:
Never repay evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ( Romans 12:17-21 NASB)
Based on the biblical text above, I want to emphasize a few important things about going to trial:
- Do not sue someone for wrongdoing for his or her harm. If you are suing, you must seek to stop someone from doing harm and not to repay their harm. If revenge is the reason you sued someone, you have already done wrong from the beginning and not acted according to God’s Word.
- As much as it depends on you, if possible, seek to restore the relationship with that man and do him good without suing him.
- Don’t take revenge for yourself. Some people do not sue their enemy because they are not satisfied with the punishment that will be given to them there, so they decide to take revenge on their own. Under no circumstances is such a thing acceptable in God’s eyes. He says that revenge is His, and He will avenge those who harm us, His children.
- If your enemy is thirsty, give him something to drink, and if he is hungry, give him something to eat. That is, if there is any good you can do to awaken his healthy conscience, do it. To heap burning coals on the head means to awaken a person’s healthy conscience and make him repent of the harm he has done to you or others.
- When the offender has wronged you, do not let yourself be overcome by the evil he has caused you, and think about what good you can do to this man, but a real good, to lead him to the salvation of his or her soul.
I remember a friend of mine, a pastor from Romania, who one day was called by his wife and called home urgently. His wife told him on the phone that a thief had come to their house and that she had called the police and the neighbors had come to her aid. When the pastor’s brother came, the neighbors who had helped catch the thief were there, and the thief was there. They were waiting for the police to come and the pastor, when he saw that the thief was a teenager who lived in the street, asked his wife to give the thief something to eat until the police came, so that he would not leave hungry. As they sat at the table, the pastor became more interested in the boy. Shortly afterwards, the police arrived and arrested him, and because he had many other similar crimes, the young man was sentenced to several years in prison. My pastor friend, all these years, went to the jail, brought him clothes and whatever else he needed, and told him the Word of God so when the thief came out of prison, a new man came out and began to live a new life being now good friends with the pastor and his family.
Gichin Funakoshi, the master who introduced Karate-Do to the whole world, said that one of his teachers was a very strong man and being of advanced age, one day on the street a young man threw himself at him to hit him and to rob him. The master grabbed his hand so the thief could no longer release the hand that was already twisted behind his back. The master took him to the first restaurant, they sat down and after ordering food, he started talking to him and finding out why he decided to attack an old man and then rebuked him. This case had a great impact on the life of the thief and he gave up the evil he practiced.
The state has a duty to administer justice
The state was established by God, and justice is one of the forms by which God’s vengeance and the punishment of criminals must be administered. Here is what is written in the Scriptures on this subject:
Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (Romans 13:1-4 NASB)
Since the authorities have been notified or have become aware themselves of a crime, they have a duty to apply justice to the offender in order to repay him and punish him for the wrong done. If they do not do so, then the state, instead of limiting evil, contributes to its growth and spread. In the summer of 2011, a group of Italian pedophiles was identified in Balti who molested several boys and teenagers from vulnerable families. A lawsuit was filed against them, but at one point, the victims’ parents came and withdrew their statements. It is not difficult to understand that the criminals offered money to the parents of the molested boys and thus convinced them to withdraw their lawsuits. The criminals were released and went home to Italy. If they had committed such a crime in Italy, they would have been subjected to chemical castration, while in Moldova they easily managed to escape unpunished. Because the rulers of the state do not fulfill their duty to God, the criminals were not given revenge and punishment. This increases this evil and we are horrified to see how every week new cases of pedophilia are presented in the media.
We must forgive all people in our hearts
It is the duty of every Christian on a personal level to forgive all those who have wronged him regardless of the proportions of the crimes committed against him, and the duty of the state is to exercise God’s vengeance and punishment on criminals. Forgiveness is an attitude of the heart and it must take place in the heart. There are many cases when people do not sue criminals, but they never forgive them. Statistics say that on average every fourth woman was sexually victimized as a child or as an adult. How many of these women have come to sue their rapists? Very few. But most of them cannot and do not forgive those who raped them. Likewise, we can give many, many examples when people have a heart full of anger against those who have hurt them and cannot forgive. God wants us to forgive anything and everyone and not to burden our hearts with unforgiveness. I managed to forgive my father in my heart only after his death and after I became a Christian. What great deliverance came to my heart when I fully forgave. Jesus said:
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you for your offenses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your offenses.” (Mark 11:25-26 NASB)
The way we forgive others most directly affects our relationship with God and therefore we must forgive all people, and when criminals are punished, we accept this not because we can’t forgive them or because we want to take revenge on them, but to stop them from doing more harm. But in our heart we forgive and we must always forgive.
Forgiveness does not mean tolerating evil
When addressing a case of church discipline, the Apostle Paul presented important truths about forgiveness. In the Corinthian Church someone sinned and brought sorrow to all. The church, at Paul’s urging, took action, judged him, and punished him with a good result. Now the Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in the church:
But if anyone has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not for me, but in some degree—not to say too much—for all of you. Sufficient for such a person is this punishment which was imposed by the majority, so that on the other hand, you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a person might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end I also wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. But one whom you forgive anything, I also forgive; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did so for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11 NASB)
Because the church applied the punishment and because the punishment achieved its purpose and brought correction, Paul now tells them to forgive him and receive him back into the Church community. Moreover, he says that they should show love for him again. If we do not forgive, says Paul, we let Satan gain from us because he who has sinned will be overcome by too much sorrow. But it is wrong to forgive without applying any punishment and without helping a man to repent of the wrong done and to correct himself, because in this way we still give Satan a chance to gain from us. Here I am not referring to the forgiveness we must give to every human being in our heart, but to the forgiveness shown in how we relate to him.
I do not know what caused you to sue the offender, and I do not know what harm he has done to you, but I hope that the teaching in this article will help you.
Translated by Ina Croitoru