Crime: How Will It Be Stopped?

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Not long ago, in a small midwestern city, an older gentleman who happened to live in the same neighborhood as my son and his family went to a nearby grocery store to shop. My son and his wife often shopped at this store, and although they were careful, especially at night, they never thought what happened would ever happen in their relatively safe neighborhood.

The gentleman was in his 70s and appeared harmless. As he came out of the store, three young men accosted him and demanded money. Apparently he didn't move fast enough, or maybe he verbally disagreed with them. Regardless, they quickly turned violent.

They knocked him around, then one of them pulled out a pistol and shot him. The young men left him on the ground, helpless and bleeding. The elderly gentleman died from his wounds, wounds he received outside that well-lit, small-city supermarket.

If this can happen in a relatively small and peaceful midwestern city, what is life like in much larger cities where burglaries, robberies and murders happen regularly?

A world at risk

Have you been a victim of crime? The odds are that you—or someone close to you—have been victimized at least once, and possibly several times. Almost every day we hear of terrible crimes committed against innocent people. In some quarters walking the streets in broad daylight can be every bit as frightening and dangerous as dark alleys at midnight.

Political motives are often offered for violent terrorist acts. No nation anywhere in the world is a safe haven from the horrendous acts of violence recently witnessed in Russia, Israel, Spain, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Indonesia.

The horrible crimes we read about in our daily newspapers are only a drop in the bucket compared to the violent carnage perpetrated on humanity every single day.

Peace and safety are elusive and illusory in much of the world. We fear for our safety and the security of our families and loved ones. Parents worry that their children are at risk from drive-by shootings, violence on school grounds and possible kidnappings.

The high cost of crime

In 2003, crime rates in the United States were at a 30-year low. This is certainly encouraging news. Yet at the same time, it seems that almost everyone has been or knows a victim of a serious crime. Even with such record-low crime rates, last year about 1 in 44 Americans was a victim of a violent crime (murder, assault, rape or armed robbery) and about 1 in 6 was a victim of a crime such as burglary and auto theft.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that 16,503 murders were committed in America last year.

But that's only part of the story. Total violent crimes—murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, rape and assault—numbered some 1,381,000. Property crimes—burglary, larceny, theft, motor vehicle theft, arson and the like—totaled some 10,436,000.

These statistics are repugnant to any sane-thinking citizen, especially those who value their freedoms. What about the freedom to remain alive, to live a normal life span and to enjoy grandchildren and great-grandchildren? What about the devastating cost to society?

Declines in crime

Although the drop in the U.S. crime rate is certainly good news, a look at the reasons for the decline is revealing.

The largest single factor in the crime decline is demographics: The U.S. population is aging. As the baby-boom generation has reached middle age, its members are far less inclined to commit crimes than they were in their younger years. The same goes for their children, who are now settling down and having children of their own.

At the same time, sociologists are predicting an increase in crime as more and more of these children approach the teen years and create a new crime wave.

Another major factor is the sheer number of U.S. citizens locked away from society. The U.S. prison population is at an all-time high, with 2.1 million adults locked away in federal and state prisons. Some 4.8 million more were on probation, parole or in jail in 2003.

As more and more criminals are locked up for longer periods of time, they are not on the streets committing additional crimes. The costs to American taxpayers, however, are staggering—about $30,000 per inmate per year, or some $60 billion annually. Costs for police and the judicial system easily bring the total governmental cost of crime to well over $120 billion per year.

Yet, as high as those costs are, it may be money well spent considering the even higher costs of crime and violence Americans would experience were these systems not in place to safeguard citizens. One need only look at some other countries where law and order are breaking down to see how much worse it could be.

Root causes of crime

What is the source of crime and violence? How did crime begin, and why is it perpetuated from generation to generation? Why, after centuries of trying, has mankind been unable to find a solution to the scourge of crime?

Modern experts have not given us the answers. For the solutions to crime and violence, we have to turn to God's Word, the Holy Bible. It specifically reveals the true causes.

Psychologists and sociologists have many rationalizations for why society is plagued with crime. Many place the blame on poverty, dysfunctional families, poor parenting and the like. Although these no doubt increase the likelihood of criminal activity, they are not the fundamental cause.

Though sometimes committed out of irrational frustrations, crime is a personal choice. None of the above factors ever forced a person into criminal activity. We all have freedom to weigh courses of actions, to consider the consequences, to make and follow through on decisions. We are not forced to make decisions based on our social or family background.

Man's Creator, in His Word, makes it clear where crime originates. All too often it is the bitter fruit of our own greed and selfishness.

"Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start?" asks James. "Is it not precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you lack it; so you kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy, so you fight to get your way by force . . ." (James 4:1-2, New Jeru-salem Bible, emphasis added throughout).

What is man really like?

Many people assume that we human beings are essentially good and that we will eventually solve our problems through our efforts and ingenuity. However, thousands of years of history show that we are fundamentally incapable of living at peace with one another for very long.

After all, only 60 years ago citizens of the most advanced societies of modern civilization were slaughtering, maiming and exterminating each other on an unprecedented scale during World War II. And the world has seen dozens and dozens more wars since then, along with literally millions of individual crimes against one another.

The Bible paints a less-than-optimistic picture of man's nature. "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9, New American Standard Bible).

The prophet Jeremiah adds that we are naturally incapable of making the decisions that will allow us to live together in peace. ". . . I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Man needs help!

Wise King Solomon tells us that often the ways that appear right to human beings ultimately lead to tragedy. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).

As Jeremiah asked, "who can understand" his own heart—his innermost thoughts and motivations? We human beings have a remarkable capacity to deceive ourselves, to rationalize our actions and justify our selfish behavior. Is it any wonder, then, that we live in a world plagued with crime?

The apostle Paul speaks of the results of what Jeremiah described as our "desperately wicked" heart: "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one . . . Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:10-12,15-18). Strong language indeed! Without sane spiritual guidance, humanity is incapable of living in real peace.

Spiritual deception

Paul reminds us that "all have sinned" (verse 23)—none of us is completely faultless or innocent, regardless of how we might view ourselves. James describes the process that leads to lawbreaking: ". . . Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:14-15, New International Version).

Before you disagree with the Bible's description of our motivations and thoughts, ask yourself a few questions:

How often have you been tempted to take something that wasn't yours?

How many times have you shaded the truth to your advantage?

How often have you been so frustrated, disgusted or angry at another person that you wished that person didn't exist?

How often have you been tempted to enter a sexual relationship with someone other than your husband or wife, or to imagine such a relationship through pornography and fantasy?

Those evil desires, said James, are there within us craving to be satisfied. And too often we don't exercise the character and self-control to keep our greed and selfishness in check. We give in. Sometimes we're caught and suffer the consequences; other times we think we get away with it.

An unseen criminal mastermind

The Bible reveals another major factor at work in all human societies—an immensely powerful invisible being who continually leads man down a path toward selfishness and self-destruction. Scripture calls him Satan or the devil and describes him as the enemy of all humanity.

Jesus Christ described this being as the real power behind those who wanted to destroy both Him and His message. Confronting a group of men who wanted to kill Him, He said: "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44).

Jesus knew that Satan's lies misled our first human parents, Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). And Satan has continued his manipulative, corrupting influence ever since. This angelic being "sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3:8), and he has continued to sin and to lead and tempt men and women to sin for thousands of years.

The consequences of sin, however, can be deceptive in the sense that they are not always immediate. Adam lived for 930 years before death finally occurred. It is precisely because the penalties are often delayed that the sinner thinks he can get away with lawbreaking (Ecclesiastes 8:11). But God's great spiritual law is self-enforcing.

Satan's enormous influence on mankind

How great is the devil's influence? It is enormous. The Bible tells us that he "deceives the whole world" (Revelation 12:9). Along with the other fallen angels, the demons, he sows seeds of selfishness, greed, envy, jealousy and hatred among people everywhere.

The apostle Paul describes the state of most of mankind as "dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient" (Ephesians 2:1-2, NIV).

Satan's unseen influence is always at work, though very few recognize it. Under his influence, our primary motivation is "gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts" (verse 3, NIV).

The devil deceives us into thinking that the way to happiness lies in continually seeking self-satisfaction and gratification. We fail to recognize that this very thing is what ultimately leads to crime and untold human suffering!

The apostle John informs us that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19). Whether we realize it or not, we have all fallen victim to his malignant, deceitful influence. Paul even calls him "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4)—meaning that Satan is whom most people unknowingly follow and worship, enshrouded as they are in spiritual blindness.

Jesus Christ commissioned Paul to go and open people's eyes to the truth "in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God . . ." (Acts 26:18).

Who is really imprisoned?

Most societies lock criminals behind bars for stealing from and killing their fellow man. But that's not the end of the story. Are those convicted of crimes against humanity the only ones behind bars, the only ones imprisoned?

Sadly, no. The rest of us must lock our doors and windows at night. The rest of us are the ones who look over our shoulder to see whether we're in danger of being mugged. The rest of us are the ones who must watch our children carefully, lest they be kidnapped, molested or murdered. The rest of us are the ones who live in uneasiness about our personal safety.

We are the ones who share in the high cost of crime through taxes to pay for law enforcement, the judicial system, the burgeoning prisons and jails. Through insurance we all pay the cost of vandalism and the millions of burglaries, arsons and stolen cars. Through higher prices, everyone pays the price for shoplifting, embezzlement and other employee theft.

In our modern society we are all "imprisoned"—if not in our homes, certainly in our minds. We fear for our lives when drugs, guns and thievery abound. In the larger metropolitan areas, gangs control whole regions of the cities, making it risky just to walk down the street.

We all pay a heavy price for the spiritual blindness that envelopes humanity. What a tragedy! But it won't always be this way. Peace has been promised mankind. It will come—not because of the efforts of human beings but in spite of them. 

The end of crime and imprisonment

Part of the promise of Jesus Christ's first coming was to bring peace to the earth "to all in whom [God] delights" (Luke 2:14, Revised English Bible).

But humanity has never seen that promised peace and goodwill. Those promises have been extended to only a few—those who willingly surrender their own wills, their own selfish motivations, to God and thereby put into action the way of life Jesus Himself lived and taught.

The rest of mankind is not now willing to submit to the way of peace as taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ. So the vast majority of people will experience those promises only after Christ comes to earth a second time. He will then establish the Kingdom of God on earth (Revelation 11:15). The gospel, or good news, that He proclaimed (Mark 1:14) will at last become a reality!

However, the transition will not come easily. When Christ returns, He will initially have to force peace on humanity. Most of mankind will be angry at His second coming (Revelation 11:18).

The nations will not submit to God's will without a fight! Jesus will have to "rule them with a rod of iron . . . tread[ing] the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" (Revelation 19:15).

Nor will Satan willingly surrender his grip on humanity. Before Christ's second coming the devil will be filled with "great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (Revelation 12:12). In his rage he will persecute those who are faithful to God (verse 17) and lead the world's great geopolitical powers into massive bloodshed that will be brought to a halt at Christ's return.

But this will mark the end of Satan's rule on earth. He will at that time be spiritually shackled, incarcerated so he can no longer deceive and mislead the peoples of earth during Jesus Christ's thousand-year reign (Revelation 20:1-3).

Real peace at last

When the Prince of Peace returns, He will bring crime and violence to an end. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain [Christ's Kingdom on earth], for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).

The world will at last experience a peace it has never known. The prophet Micah describes this world, transformed under the rule of Jesus Christ: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it.

"Many nations shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

"He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken" (Micah 4:1-4).

In that day, yet ahead of us, man at last will know true peace. All people will be freed from crime and the prison of blindness, and the tyrannical overseer of man's captivity, Satan the devil, will himself be imprisoned.

The peace of God will break out on earth, and humankind will finally be free! God assures us that this hope will one day become a wonderful reality. GN

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