Have we come to rely too narrowly on retribution as the only legitimate form of justice?
I reflected on this question as news outlets covered the Jodi Arias trial over the last few days. Earlier this month, Arias was found guilty of killing her boyfriend Travis Alexander. After convicting her, a jury determined that due to the especially cruel nature of the slaying, that Arias was eligible for the death penalty. Though her fate has yet to be decided, time will soon reveal whether Arias will spend life in prison or be put to death to pay for her crime.
However, I wonder if there is another way. In spite of her guilt, and yes, there is overwhelming evidence that she is guilty – there is no doubt about that, I wonder if there is another way to bring justice to the Alexander family and to the larger justice system. Although executing Arias may seem like the only reasonable thing to do (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, right?), it wont bring back the deceased and it will not provide relief to those who are grieving. And so if the act of execution does nothing more than punish the guilty party, can it really be considered an act of justice?
Arias’ case is an extreme example of criminal activity, but it brings into question the purpose of the justice system here in America. Does the justice system aim to bring about punishment to those who are deserving of it, or does it seek to rehabilitate, restore, and correct horrendous behavior? Is its purpose to legally exact revenge, or is its purpose to bring about reconciliation between those who have offended and those who have been offended against? In all honesty, it appears that it is more about punishment and revenge, than it is about righting societal ills. It seems as if it is more about retribution than it is about rehabilitation and restoration. No wonder our country is in the state that it is in!
Is there another way? Is there another means to bring about justice and healing, not just for the victim but for the perpetrator of the offense as well? Perhaps! But then we must begin to look at perpetrators in a new light – instead of demonizing them for their actions, as we often do, we need to start looking and valuing them as fully and completely human, in spite of what they have done. This requires embracing them rather than locking them up and pushing them away from us.
We must also forgive those who have committed great offenses, understanding that forgiveness does not condone the behavior but gives power and ultimately salvation to those who have been severely wronged:
“Forgiving may appear to condone the offense, thus further disempowering the victim. But forgiveness does not overlook the deed: it rises above it. “This is what is means to be human,” it says. “I cannot and will not return the evil you inflicted on me.” – Pumla Gobodo – Madikizela, from a Human Being Died that Night
We must also remember that restoration and reconciliation are themes that resonate with the heart and mind of Christ. Instead of allowing sin to destroy us, He took all of our nasty transgressions upon Himself and died for us while we were still sinners. He does not demand punishment or retribution for us, in fact, His death and subsequent resurrection made it possible for us to be reconciled to God – the ultimate act of justice! If Christ did it and continues to do that for us, how can we deny this of other people? Some could argue that this is not how you govern a society, but remember He is running the universe.