Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Retribution or restoration?

My buddy “Homer” was in the men’s recovery program at Cityteam San Jose. We have a weekly appointment, but he called to say he couldn’t meet me; triggered by a big disappointment, he’d yielded to the siren song of the bottle.

The lovely Carol was packing for a road trip, and our little dog was skittish. Showing her anxiety or her displeasure or maybe both, she also displayed a regression in her, ah, continence—once on our bedspread, and once on a bathmat we had near the patio door.

I heard a loud crash in the parking lot. Turning around, I saw the crumpled front end of an expensive European sedan. Behind the wheel of a white SUV that had smashed into it, the teen-aged driver looked stunned.

The model of retributive justice would jail or fine Homer, shoot the dog, and somehow punish the student driver. I have to think there’s a better way.

It’s probably because I’ve been thinking about restoration and retribution that I noticed these events, which occurred within a week; we all of us make mistakes, choose poorly, lose control from time to time. We hope to have fewer and milder such episodes as we get older and, we hope, wiser. And yet the only way to stop completely is to also stop breathing.

When I do choose poorly, lose my head, or just slip up, how do I want to be treated? Do I need to be jailed, fined, shot or something? I don’t think most of us want that for ourselves, though we may wish we could do that to someone else. What I want is help and restoration, and so I must offer that to those in my world. I thanked Homer for calling me, and told him about naltrexone. I am now more diligent to let the dog out first thing in the morning, and also whenever she indicates to me that she needs it—and also to give her enough cuddles. And I told the teen-ager that it’s very important to get behind the wheel again as soon as he reasonably could.

Of course, it’s not always as simple as that. If the undesirable behavior were to continue, and it became evident that it sprang from disregard for oneself or others, we would want to take some other action, but ultimately our aim would be recovery, restoration of trust, rehabilitation. In the dog’s case, some consultation with a trainer would probably be indicated.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6, “Beloved, if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourselves, because it could have been you.” Actually I think in the NASB it reads “yourselves, lest you too be tempted,” but my old friend’s paraphrase is more striking.

Because it really could have been me. Why did that boy’s car, rather than mine (when I was learning to drive decades ago), hit the late-model Mercedes sedan? Because I was so much more skillful? Ha! I’ve made many many mistakes in my life, and things could have gone horribly wrong. In Hebrews 5 we read that a high priest “can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” Since we are “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2), we do well to remember that we are in fact beset with weakness, and as our Lord said, “Do not judge, lest ye be judged.” (Matthew 7 I think, AV)

This attitude of humility is important to remember, which does not make it always easy to remember. Do I sometimes say to myself, “How awful! I would never...”? Of course I do; so do you. But I like to think I remember soon afterward that “there but for the grace of God go I”: given a different set of parents, a different set of strengths and weaknesses, different experiences growing up, then I could very easily end up being just like that guy I think is so terrible.

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