Prison for the just
I have a question for evangelical Christians about justice.
Imagine that there is a man named Max who is serving 30 years in prison for murdering his wife so he could collect her life insurance. Five years into his sentence, Max honestly and sincerely becomes a Christian. At that point, Jesus has accepted punishment for Max’s sins and, so far as God is concerned, justice has been satisfied.
My question is this: since justice has been satisfied, should Max be let out of prison?
I can think of a few possible responses.
No. Human law and God’s law are not the same thing. So you would say that it is morally acceptable for human law to punish someone when God feels that justice has already been fulfilled? Or do you think that the forgiveness one receives when accepting Jesus as personal savior is infinite only as applied to God’s law? Or do you think that Max’s remaining debt to society overrules the fact that he’s paid his debt to God?
Yes he should be released. Justice has been served. Are there any limits on this? For example, justice would equally be served if Max became a Christian after 5 years in prison, after a week in prison, or while on trial. And what if Max was a Christian for years, had a lapse and killed his wife, but immediately repented? God’s justice would have been fulfilled. Once it was clear that Max was once again a devout Christian and justice had been served, should he even be brought to trial?
No. If Max is allowed to leave prison, then others might lie about being Christian so they could go free. Then aren’t you admitting that the prisons might be full of people who have already served justice? And are you saying that it is better to lock up a person who might deserve to be set free than to risk setting free a criminal? What about presumption of innocence?
No. Prison isn’t about justice; it’s about deterring potential criminals by showing them that if they do wrong they will be punished. Then why do people talk so much about justice when it comes to determining prison sentences? Why not send some people to prison based on slim evidence as a deterrent to others since the potential injustice of doing so is irrelevant? And wouldn’t releasing Max from prison show potential criminals that coming to Jesus will set them free?
All of these seem wrong to me, so I assume that Christians have a different response. I am very interested in hearing what it is.