When Restorative Justice is not Possible

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

I am grateful for the efforts that are happening today for victims and offenders of crime to experience healing and reconciliation. When I worked as a licensed counselor, I had opportunities to facilitate sessions between the victim of sexual abuse and the offender opening up conversations about responsibility, confession, repentance, forgiveness, amends and reconciliation.

Participants were able to express their experiences and feelings. Offenders explored ways of making restitution for the harm caused by their behavior. Victims considered ways they can continue their journey toward healing and restoration. This is called restorative justice.

When both parties are willing to do the work needed for healing, it is powerful. However, when both parties are not willing or able to do the work, it results in pain and feelings of no resolution. It is especially painful for the victim when the offender does not take responsibility for their actions.

How does a victim continue their journey toward healing and restoration when the offender is not willing to make amends? Or, in the case of murder, the victim’s loved one will never come back, no matter how much the offender seeks to amend.

This is, indeed, agonizing for the victim. Victims can feel shame and responsibility for the crime to harboring feelings of anger and hatred toward oneself and others for years.

We are all created with a longing for justice when we are wronged. This longing is a good longing. God is just and is hot with anger when injustice happens. Read Amos, Hosea and Micah and you will see the heartbeat of God through his repetitive command to “Seek good, hate evil” (Amos 5:14). As we hate evil, there is a longing to satiate the hatred when evil happens to us. This is called justice.

However, sandwiched in the minor prophets is the story of Hosea who marries Gomer. She is repetitively unfaithful to Hosea and humiliates him as he is the prophet. Eventually she leaves him for other lovers.

Gomer’s lovers leave her and she sells herself into slavery. Wracked with grief, rather than glory in ‘justice’ for himself, Hosea repetitively forgives her, pursues her and buys her from slavery obeying God’s command to “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods” (Hos. 3:1).

Here we see a major turn. A strong message of forgiveness sets the tone for us to enter into the New Testament where Jesus would die for all sinners, including the ones who murdered him saying, “”Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).

Jesus’ new command is, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:43). We are now called to forgive as we have been forgiven.

Even in the best outcomes of restorative justice, there are wounds victims may carry to their death. Full justice will never be satisfied until we are in heaven by the One who carries out perfect justice. Until then, the New Testament commands are clear to “forgive our enemies” for “love never fails” (I Cor. 13:8).

The greatest ways victims can continue their journey to healing and restoration is take time to grieve, grieve, grieve for your loss is great. No one can diminish that. Then, give your anger to God who carries out perfect justice. Finally, forgive your enemies so you can be set free.

Edna Lee

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