Meditating on Proverbs 14 last evening I ran across verse 9, which says:
Fools mock at making restitution, but there is goodwill among the upright.
When you Google the word "reparations" often the first links that arise have to do with compensating the descendants of American slaves. Slavery in my country in the 17-1800's was sanctioned by some because slavery is found in the Bible. However, it is plain from the teaching of Jesus that, while the Christian is to submit to social constructs he/she is unable to change (Romans 13:1-7), it was a grave error, a gross misinterpretation, to re-create slavery in America. Slavery was established here out of the greed of wealthy men. And, we continue to pay the price in our collective American psyche for the resentment those decisions brought.
However, I am pondering this verse in the broader sense. It is easy to focus on some major construct, such as the American slave movement, and ignore the implications of this verse for each of us. The real power in this verse comes when we apply it in our own lives, in the many (even unintentional) ways we hurt each other, just by moving through our day-to-day lives.
If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit who lives within you is not going to let you get by with hurting someone else. He is going to poke you, prod you, propel you toward making things right. Furthermore, in most cases, He will also prescribe to you the method He wants you to use to do just that. (Believe me, I have experienced this!) That is what making reparations is, basically - - - an attempt to make things right, to undo damage done.
Now, sometimes, total reparation is not completely, fully possible. Words can't be recalled, nor can some physical/emotional injuries be made whole. Let's say the wronged party is dead. Pretty hard to reach out to them, isn't it? (In fact scripture forbids attempting to contact the spirits of the dead; so, lest I become hopelessly Halloween-y, let's move on....) However, reparations can, in those cases, be made to relatives of the wronged person. Or, a symbolic act of reparation goes a long way.
What are ways reparations can be made?
Here are some ways the "goodwill" mentioned in the verse can possibly be restored:
- sincere apology
- make an explanation (often wronged parties need to understand "how this happened") but not excuses; be honest, and admit guilt where applicable
- when possible restore the object or repair the situation; be as generous as you can afford to be
Sometimes, the most powerful idea is to contact the wronged party (when possible), confess the wrong and ask how things can be healed. Whoa....that's major!
I think of the various "love languages" here1. The poor in-the-doghouse husband wants to apologize to his wife, and so he brings her a big bouquet of flowers. But, "gifts" is not her receiving love language. So, the apology does not resonate with her. If he had washed her car for her without being asked and sincerely apologized, then she might have been touched to her core. So, as the party who committed an offense, we could choose a "making whole" strategy from the list above, and have it accomplish little. No bueno, as the Spanish speakers say.... that's "no good".
So, ask ... and you'll probably receive an answer! Recall the story of the rich, young ruler in the New Testament. He seemed to sincerely ask Jesus what he needed to do to become a disciple of the Master's, but the young fellow was unprepared for Jesus' answer. Consequently, rather than embracing the answer and following through, "he went away sorrowful" (Matthew 19:16-24). Within all reason, if you ask the offended party what would help to heal the breach, be prepared for his/her answer.
Stay focused on the current offense. Don't allow the conversation to expand beyond the offense in question. It would be easy to claw open other wounds, the conversation becoming so distracted and the negative emotions so deep that no resolution to the current situation is possible. And, your relationship is then worse than before.
The two of you may or may not agree on every aspect of the situation; in fact, you probably won't. However, as the offender, you can at least own your personal part in the mucky mire. It is up to the other person to deal with his or hers.
What if you are the wronged party?
First of all, forgive, whether the other party attempts reparations or not. This is for your own physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Bitterness can set into your soul and slowly poison you. Depending on the situation, you might privately approach the offending party and initiate the conversation. Truly, some of us are so clueless we have no idea we have been offensive!
Second, once the conversation has begun, it is up to you to be both gracious and reasonable if asked by the person who is sincere in his or her offer to make reparations. Come on now. Don't be ridiculous. Allowing hurt to make obnoxious or unrealistic demands does not bring healing. You may need some time to think about the offer extended by the offending party. Take the time and search your own soul before answering hastily. We often grasp at material things to heal our wounds, but later find that they do not do the trick.
I hope these thoughts been helpful. Honestly, haven't we all "been there", either as the offended or the offender? The most important thing to remember is that "goodwill", repaired relationships, are to be sought and cherished. So, if the Holy Spirit is speaking to you about a breach in need of healing, listen, pray for wisdom. And then, act.