“In the ancient world, response to crime was almost always retributive, but a careful review of biblical teaching shows us that God calls us to answers other than retribution.”
— Tony Campolo
Forgiveness is never easy unless by the grace of God we are gifted release from the captor of retributive resentment.
If we consider that God’s gold standard for life is the rule of love, then we will accept that we all owe each other the love we would expect for ourselves—in alignment with the Golden Rule of Jesus in Matthew 7:12. If love is the standard, then betrayal would be substandard, and betrayal may be a better word for the generic term, “crime.”
When we have been betrayed, when there has been a crime against us, we could expect proper justice in the incremental process set down by: 1) repentance, 2) restitution, 3) reconciliation, and finally, 4) restoration.
The biblical gauge of justice, notwithstanding the level of betrayal against the victim, has the objective of restoration. The governing rule of justice is grace; provided that the earlier processes preceding restoration—in their order—actually take place.
True repentance means the perpetrator is cut to the heart regarding their crime of betrayal. They are inconsolable about the loss and suffering an innocent victim has had to endure. Repentance—where the heart is rent asunder, for there is no other repentance—always involves motives for restitution (to make up for the wrong in practical ways).
Following the act of repentance comes the opportunity for restitution.
Much of the time victims’ lives cannot be put back the way they were before the crime. A returning of fourfold a sum taken fits with Exodus 22:1, but there are other crimes that are more difficult to assuage. But where the system of judicial governance can tolerate creative and innovative penalties victims’ anger may be calmed enough that reconciliation might be possible.
Where both the perpetrator and the victim are open to what God says on the subject they know that restitution is the path to reconciliation.
Miracles are possible when we bring the will of heaven to earth. Reconciliation is a poignant example of such a miracle.
True repentance and adequate restitution—both to the satisfaction of the fair-minded victim—are absolute prerequisites. Reconciliation may be a miracle, but it is plain foolishness without repentance and restitution.
Restitution’s definitive aim is restoration.
The law under Jesus is the higher law of love. We could call it grace. But we are wrong if we think grace is all-forgiving without the previous three sequential steps, and their standards, having been met.
No one is beyond restoration, no matter what they’ve done.
It’s more important what they do regarding what they’ve done. It’s more important what has happened in their hearts. God can restore anyone, and who would decry God of his justice?
The biblical pattern for responding to betrayal starts with repentance of the offender, and their restitution, which promotes reconciliation and, ultimately, restoration. Nobody is beyond restoration having met God’s requirements for recovery.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.
Reference: Tony Campolo, Red Letter Christians – A Citizen’s Guide to Faith & Politics (Ventura, California: Regal Books, 2008), pp. 142-48.