Monday, 17 February 2014

God's Restorative Justice

Throughout this blog I have attempted to share my growing belief and experience about a God who does not punish, reward or hand out favours.  At the same time I continue to ask myself ‘how else can we come to understand a Being who loves all of his creation UNCONDITIONALLY?  Perhaps we can only ever seem to grasp small portions of this incredible healing and forgiving love.  Is seems simply too far beyond our daily experience!  For many God’s unconditional love  is too difficult to accept since they may never have received or experienced this kind of love from their parents, teachers and even members of their religious institution. And so we continue to demand punishment not just for ourselves but also for others and we continue to suffer. But God has a better plan – it is called restorative justice.
Fr. Richard Rohr,OFM one of my favourite spiritual teachers, suggests that for many God’s love or grace is still based on our false sense of justice which demands that sin must be punished and followed by a lengthy period of repentance and only after that we  might experience or be worthy of transformation.  Fr. Rohr calls this a religion based on meritocracy.  But Rohr provides the following beautiful illustration of God's intended grace pattern as follows:  
Sin - - -  >punishment - - ->repentance - - -> transformation
 The grace pattern is:
Sin - - ->unconditional love - - >transformation - ->repentance
 In other words Rohr reminds us that Yahweh’s fidelity is beyond a merit system where we will find the grace of God.  When we are ready and willing to expose our hidden sins under God’s unconditional love, transformation will out of necessity precede any form of real repentance.  And so, Rohr gently reminds us that God cannot heal what you not acknowledge!  Why have we misunderstood this healing message for so long?
A careful reading of Jesus’ parable of Prodigal Son might be of help.  Noted spiritual author and teacher, Henri Nouwen and his powerful reflection on the parable of the Prodigal Son in his book  book ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ (1992) so beautifully captures the mixed emotions we probably all experience in such a manner that I, for one, cannot possibly say it or improve on it in any other way.  The themes of homecoming, affirmation, and reconciliation set against our feelings of loneliness, dejection, jealousy, or anger are typically for me a daily struggle.  
Here follow just a few excerpts from Nouwen’s book:     
On the Prodigal Son
Receiving forgiveness requires a total willingness to let' God be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing. As long as I want to do even a part of that myself, I end up with partial solutions, such as becoming a hired servant. As a hired servant, I can still keep my distance, still revolt, reject, strike, run away, or complain about my pay. As the beloved son, I have to claim in full dignity and begin preparing myself to become the father.
On the True Elder Son
The return of the elder son is becoming as important to me as—if not more important than—the return of the younger son. How will the elder son look when he is free from his complaints, free from his anger; resentments, and jealousies? Because the parable tells us nothing about the response of the elder son, we are left with the choice of listening to the Father or of remaining imprisoned in our self-rejection.
I have to let go of all comparison; all rivalry and competition, and surrender to the Father's love. This requires a leap of faith because I have little experience of non-comparing love and do not know the healing power of such a love. As long as I stay outside in the darkness, I can only remain in the resentful complaint that results from my comparisons. Outside of the light, my younger brother seems to be more loved by the Father than I; in fact, outside of the light, I cannot even see him as my own brother.
On the Fatherhood of Compassion
Becoming like the heavenly Father is not just one important aspect of Jesus' teaching; it is the very heart of his message. The radical quality of Jesus' words and the seeming impossibility of his demands are quite obvious when heard as part of a general call to become and to be true sons and daughters of God.

Fr. Rohr reminds us that “The dominant culture is one based on an economy of merit and retributive justice. The economy of grace turns meritocracy on its head, aiming toward restorative justice, for “the revelation from the cross and the Twelve Steps, however, believes that sin and failure are, in fact, the setting and opportunity for the transformation and enlightenment of the offender—and then the future will take care of itself. The majority of human history has not been ready to see this revelation, but we are witnessing an evolution of consciousness drawing humanity forward.  Restorative justice emphasizes repairing the harm caused by crime.  When victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how to do that the results can be transformational.
Rohr invites us to witness a practical example and application of restorativejustice here. Be sure to see how it is being applied in your community as well in other countries.  

For more on this topic readers are invited to listen to Fr. Rohr’s excellent homily on Retribution versus Restoration.


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