We, as a nation, are deeply divided on many issues. One big issue is how we look at our past. On one side, we have those who emphasis all the good qualities and who want to forget the mistakes and sins of the past. On the other side, we see people who want to deal with our past mistakes and sins, so we can move to resolve them and to restore justice.
This should not be an “either/or choice.” We need to learn to live with both sides – our country’s virtues and our vices.
I compare this situation with a human person. All of us have vices and virtues. If we deny our gifts and talents and only focus on our sinfulness, we will miss out on life and will fail to realize that we are made in God’s image and likeness. If we only look at our good qualities and not deal with evil inside us, our “demons” will take over our lives.
If we have harmed anyone, we should apologize and ask for their forgiveness. If someone has harmed us, we should forgive.
A new way of healing our country is through Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is similar to what we do as human beings. It focuses on repairing the harm caused by crime and reducing future harm through crime prevention.
When we are at our best, we want to restore relationships and not just blame or punish. When we admit out wrongs, God restores us to his friendship, but the Holy One wants us to change and not to repeat our mistakes. This is the same way that restorative justice operates.
After being wronged, few human beings can move ahead with dignity without a full and honest exposure of the truth and accountability. We cannot heal what we do not acknowledge. Hurt does not just go away on its own; it needs to be spoken and to be heard. Only then is there a possibility of Restorative Justice.
Restorative Justice requires the offenders to take responsibility for their actions and for the harm they have caused, to make amendments to the victims, and to make compensations for reintegration into the community. This requires a cooperative effort by communities and the government.
Restorative Justice is a justice that seeks not to punish but to heal. When human beings admit to each other the exact nature of our wrongs, this invariably has a human and humanizing encounter that deeply enriches both sides.
Most religions and cultures believe in one way or another that sin and evil are to be punished and that retribution is to be demanded of the sinner – in this world and usually in the next. Such retributive justice promotes a dualistic system of reward and punishment for “good” people and “bad” people and makes perfect sense to many people.
This is the system practiced in our prisons, our courtrooms, our wars, and our churches. This is what we have been doing for years. The trouble with this is that we defined God as the “Punisher in Chief” instead of Healer, Forgiver, and Reconciler. We have legitimized the retribution model for a long time.
Jesus and other mystics have shown an alternative path toward healing. In these traditions, sin and failure are an opportunity for the transformation of the person harmed, for the person causing harm, and for the community. We need to do more than mere ledger-keeping of wrongs.
We all need to apologize, and we all need to forgive for humanity to have a sustainable future. Otherwise, we, as individuals or as a nation, are controlled by the past. History easily devolves into taking sides, showing bitterness, holding grudges, and causing violence.
Two-thirds of Jesus’ teaching are directly or indirectly about forgiveness. “Forgiveness is letting go of our hope for a different past.” Such acceptance leads to great freedom and the possibility of healing forgiveness.
We must extol our nation’s virtues and heal our past wrongs.