Ever had someone hurt you, apologize, but you still felt like something was missing? Did you think it was your problem because you couldn’t forgive? Is it possible that their apology didn’t go far enough? Have you had a chance to hear about Harold Camping’s recent apology for picking dates in 2011 for the rapture to take place? The good news is that he admits what he did was a sin and that he will no longer seek to discover the date when Jesus returns. Read his apology on the Family Radio website.
But there are a few problems with his apology. I mean…problems beyond his attempt to focus more on the good his sin did for the kingdom of God than on actually apologizing for the actual sin. His apology amounts to something akin to, “I’m sorry I was reckless and crashed your car but I got out unscathed and people heard me thank God for surviving it so it’s all good.”
What is missing? Acknowledgement of hurt, willingness to restore
Read his apology again. You will see he fails to repent directly to those he hurt most–the ones who gave sacrificially to fund his insanity. He never names the specific sins committed nor the hurts he caused. Further, and this is most telling, he makes no offer to restore victims of his offenses. If he acknowledges he misled people and in doing so received benefit from his sin, might he not desire to follow the path of Zaccheus? To give back what he took (that would be a start) and even give back more?
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Eph 4:28
Repentance is then shown not just in stopping bad behavior but replacing it with behaviors that are righteous and good.
What is restorative justice?
This week I will be in Tennessee speaking on the relationship between repentance and restorative justice. Restorative justice (RJ) is the idea that victims, offenders, and community ought to be in dialogue together to (a) understand the impact of offenses, (b) determine together ways to restore both victim and offender, and (c) to allow the community to have a say in the matter. It doesn’t oppose the rule of law but believes that the judicial approach is not always the best approach and tends to focus on punishment to the exclusion of restoration. RJ does not work unless victims are interested in it and offenders are remorseful. But, in those cases where there may be interest and some remorse, it may allow offenders the opportunity to get the depth of the pain they caused and offer them opportunities to “restore what the locusts have eaten.” (Joel 2:25)
Restoring vs. penance?
If you are like me you may be tempted to swing between to polar opposites when you are confronted with your own offenses: defensiveness or penance. Sometimes we want our apology to be the last word. We want to be forgiven and our offense treated as if it never happened. Other times we want to grovel and do penance so that the offended party will think better of us. During this season of lent, let us be aware of our offenses and the necessary sacrifice to cleanse us. But let us also be willing to seek the betterment of those we harm “with joy.”