It is finished.
More than 7 years after allegations of Criminal Breach of Trust were first levelled against 6 existing and former City Harvest leaders, including founding pastor Kong Hee, the court case has finally, finally come to an end.
The prosecution’s final attempt to increase the sentences spelt out in April 2017 was today (February 1) dismissed by the Court of Appeal. This after their initial sentences in October 2015 were lowered upon appeal.
- Kong Hee: 3.5 years (originally 8 years)
- Serina Wee: 2.5 years (originally 5 years)
- Tan Ye Peng: 3 years and 2 months (originally 5.5 years)
- Chew Eng Han: 3 years and 4 months (originally 6 years)
- John Lam: 1.5 years (originally 3 years)
- Sharon Tan: 7 months (originally 21 months)
Sharon has served out her full sentence and will not have to return to prison.
Not everyone is happy with the reduced sentences.
Cue much weeping and gnashing of teeth – many of it arising from among Christians.
I’m not here to deny anyone their thoughts and feelings. I’ll make a blanket assumption that every Christian with a complaint on the sentences is coming with the best intentions: In short, that to them it doesn’t feel like justice has been done. We’re told to act justly, no?
The God of justice has always simultaneously been the God of mercy.
But what is justice?
When you think of justice, what is the mental model? Just desserts? Just an algorithm? Just accept blindly?
To answer the question, we need to go back to the source and the beating heart of justice: God himself.
He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are Just. (Deuteronomy 32:4)
He reveals the deep things of darkness, and brings utter darkness into the light. (Job 12:22)
“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing.” (Isaiah 61:4)
Justice would seem to be about crime and consequences. For every offence, a punishment. It stands to reason then that the man whose heart seeks after God’s would seek punishment with every offence. We know this as retributive justice.
Another way to put it – maybe you’ve heard it said thus: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
But what God pronounced in the laws, His Son Jesus Christ expanded on in the New Covenant, in Matthew 5:38-48. And He turned it all on its head. Turn the other cheek. Hand over your coat. Go the extra mile with them. Love them. Pray for them.
How can this be? What sort of justice is that? What happened to the God of justice?
Nothing happened to Him. The God of justice has always simultaneously been the God of mercy (Jeremiah 9:24). He says it plainly:
Mercy triumphs over judgment. Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. (James 2:13)
Maybe a more obvious, personal, ongoing, and powerful example of this is something that all of us who believe in Jesus understand: The mercy and grace that has been shown to us, through which we have eternal life.
Retributive justice would entail our paying for our unholiness with our lives; the criminal on the cross next to Jesus would never have found access to paradise. Mercy means we have an eternal hope.
Call it a reduced sentence – where there may be consequences to pay for crime in this life, but they don’t have to carry over into eternity.
The purpose of justice – punishment for wrongdoing – is always to turn the heart of man back to the heart of the Father.
The law was then our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:23)
In mercy, we discover God’s pursuit of restorative justice.
Justice that is not there to condemn, but to help conform us into the image of Christ.
Justice that is not there to tarnish, but to transform.
Justice that is not there to separate us from His love, but to draw us nearer to Him in repentance and gratitude for His grace.
The true purpose of justice is always to turn the heart of man back to the heart of the Father.
Which means that if the heinousness of an act leads to the hardening of the heart, that’s not true justice. No – the heart softens towards the offender, that in the demonstration of love and modelling of righteousness, the offender might once again see the heart of God – and maybe come to chase after it.
The brother that is caught in sin needs restoration. We help them carry their burdens and in so doing fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)
And so we throw not stones at those found guilty, but love.
WHERE DOES THE WIDER CHURCH GO FROM HERE?
We must learn from the lessons. How to be more financially accountable and transparent. How to communicate with the congregation. How to fully abide by the rules, not just to the letter of the law but in good conscience.
We must live blameless even in the sight of men. Think of the model of Daniel, whose enemies “could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent”. (Daniel 6:4)
And we must love toward restoration. We submit to the authorities’ findings, acknowledge wrongdoing, bear out the consequences – and then let love cover over the multitude of offences.