There’s an important concept in our faith tradition that I have been wanting to preach on for the last several months…and it just never quite fit. So, I want to find some way of sharing this important concept before the end of 2018. I’m getting it in just under the wire.
Throughout Advent we have been exploring and unpacking big theological concepts—Hope, Peace, Love, Joy—that all look and feel different when we begin to examine them through the lens of our holy scriptures. We spoke about how human hope can feel frail and limited because it relies on what we can observe and measure, but God’s Hope encompasses all of Creation, even the parts we can’t see. Human peace relies on avoiding conflict, but God’s Peace is so world-altering that humans can only experience it by going through conflict. Joy is a gift from God that resounds throughout the universe, not something humans create for themselves. God’s Love is poured out abundantly, for all…not just those we like. At every turn, when we look at the human experience in light of our limited understanding of God’s presence and agency, we are forced to reconsider our understanding of human values and morals.
Our concept of justice is mot often “retributive.” If someone breaks the law or does something wrong, we want to see them punished for it. That’s usually what we mean when we say we want “justice to be done,” or we want someone to “be brought to justice.” We want to see them fined, put in jail, sentenced to harsh punishment…not because it will fix the harm they have done…but because we want to see them suffer as they have made others suffer.
This is very different than the concept of justice we find in scripture. Jesus himself teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth,’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person…’You have heard it was said, ‘Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5: 38-39, 43-44).” Many are quick to postulate that God depicted in the Old Testament is far more harsh and violent than God depicted in the New Testament. This is not an accurate reading of scripture (if you want to learn more about that, our Bible Study group will start up again in late January), but even in the Old Testament stories when God is proclaiming God’s most fiery and bloodthirsty wrath…the proclamation almost always ends with God inviting the wrongdoers to repent…to turn…to repair…to reconcile. We think of the Book of Leviticus as being filled with arcane rules with harsh and violent punishment promised to anyone who breaks them…but even the teachings in Leviticus end with God’s promise of reconciliation and forgiveness, for even the worst rule-breakers: “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors…then I will remember my covenant with Jacob; I will remember also my covenant with Isaac and also my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land (Lev. 26: 40, 42).”
It’s in this scriptural tradition—the tradition that spells out God’s ultimate desire for reconciliation with Creation through the faithfulness of humans—that we get the term that better reflects God’s sense of justice: Restorative Justice. In models of Restorative Justice, the desire is not to punish or make suffer those who have wronged us…the desire is to restore their humanity…to bring love and liberty into the lives of folks who have been made to suffer unjustly…to repair the relationship between the criminal and the victim…to restore the community.
Here is a quick link to a BUNCH of stories about what Restorative Justice can look like in the lives of people who have been wronged: http://www.justicereparatrice.org/www.restorativejustice.org/press-room/02personal/stories-of-restorative-justice
It turns the tables on our expectations…it makes those of us who have been unjustly treated sift through the true desires of our hearts…it makes those of us who have wronged another begin to understand the full extent of the damage we have caused. It is a Divine Justice that overrules the very flawed and human “justice systems” that we often create on this earth. Restorative Justice proclaims that two wrongs do not make a right…trading a guilty life for an innocent life is not good accounting and is not demonstrating love to those who Jesus calls us to love.
With our entire world on the brink of death and decay, with our country caught up in an endless loop of blame-shifting and accusations…we do not need more opportunities to create Bad Guys and Villains out of fellow human beings. What we need on this cusp between the year that has been and the year that will be…is restoration. Restored humanity. Restored relationships. Restored life, restored love, restored peace and sanity.
The Good News, friends, is that God and God’s faithful people throughout the centuries have already given us all we need to bring about such Restoration. If only we are willing to listen…to experiment…to learn…