Saturday, September 12, 2009

Making Amends

OK. Today started off pretty well. The day is beautiful. The sun's predicted. No rain's expected. I hugged my wife. Tonight, we will be hosting some dear friends for dinner. Liverpool won 4-0. Isn't life great? I surf the net to read about something even better: a man making amends for his past guilt. Before I deal with it, let me say something about news.

Good News, Bad News?
The word 'gospel' literally means 'good news.' The gospel of repentance; the gospel of grace; the gospel of faith, hope and love. How do we define what is good and what is not? For the winners of reality TV shows, winning is good, losing is bad. For the champions of a coveted ball game, victory is exhilirating, and energizing. That can be said for nearly all kinds of competition. Who does not like to win? What kind of people will play to lose? Having said that, our society has a ferocious appetite for winners and their winnings. It devours good news in terms of happy events, winning the lottery, and seeing one's favorite sports team lift the coveted cup. In the same way, it swallows bad news that happens to other people.

Good news means different things to different people. The media has sometimes been blamed for being the carrier of sensational news: Dramatic, Controversial, and anything that sells. Bad news sells, which explains the saying: "No news is good news." Once in a while, after sailing over oceans of headlines chronicling disasters, wars, scandals, hyped-up events, even toilet habits of the rich and famous, we sight an island that inspires. Any sea-sick sailor upon sighting land will cry aloud 'land-ho!' This story certainly made my day. Here's how a piece of news perks me up today.....

John Alvord, a convicted hit-and-run drunk driver regretted that his actions have caused his victim much harm and pain. He could have just paid the fine, complete his 22 months imprisonment sentence, and leave his victim to fend for himself and others to cover the medical tab. Instead, he did something remarkable. Alvord admitted that he is 100% at fault (confession). He went beyond the second mile, to check himself into the same rehabilitation as his victim to console, to comfort and to care (compassion). He pushed his own insurance company to settle the USD1.2 million medical expenses (compensation). He became a force against drunk driving (campaign for). Above all, he became a friend of Larkin, instead of a permanent foe. I am particularly fascinated because of two reasons. Firstly, all of these actions reflect dramatically the actions of a Good Samaritan in a parable of Jesus. Secondly, these remedial steps are done by a person who have wronged others, sort of like sinners trying to undo his past with good works.

A) A Neighborly Heart
Jesus's parable of the Good Samaritan is a direct answer to the lawyer who asks: "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus describes in dramatic fashion about the image of a neighbor.
  1. A neighbor willingly approaches the needy (not walk away);
  2. A neighbor takes notice and do something about it (not ignore it because of inconvenience);
  3. A neighbor lets his external senses connect with his inner being, translating all that into active steps to help (not restricting it to head knowledge);
  4. A neighbor takes care of the man's physical needs;
  5. A neighbor offers his own resources to bring the man to the nearest resting place;
  6. A neighbor, without a thought about his own, prioritize the needs of others above himself, paying in advance the needed medical expenses to help the man.
  7. In times when he could not personally help, the neighbor pays others to help the needy;
  8. A neighbor follows up on his level of care;
  9. All in all, there is no mention of the neighbor desiring a compensation, minimal payback or anything of that sort. A neighbor essentially gives, and gives and gives without expecting anything in return.
Compared with Alvord, there are some differences;
  • Alvord hurt Larkin, (the Samaritan had nothing to do with the injured man);
  • Alvord made amends mixed with remorse and goodwill; (Samaritan exhibits a neighborly attitude, not out of any guilt);
  • Alvord was previously a respected vice-president of a bank, (the Samaritan is considered lowly in Jewish society).
  • Alvord was caught, convicted and incarcerated before his good deeds, (the Samaritan had no similar past relating to the injured man).
Nevertheless, Alvord's actions deserve our admiration and inspiration. They remind us that a gallon of forgiveness lasts many miles. They show us that love covers a multitude of sins.

B) Making Amends by Works
Alvord's actions can sometimes be misconstrued that he does good works merely to repay a past misdeed. Theologically, the gospel of grace is nowhere like that. Regardless of our past deeds and misdeeds, nothing we do can ever be sufficient to cover our price of sin. We cannot enter the kingdom of heaven on the strength of our virtuous deeds. Some of us may claim to be able to banish the seven deadly sins of our lives. Others can adopt daily the seven holy virtues instead. Unfortunately, these are insufficient to pay for the ticket to heaven. According to the Scriptures, only Christ is sufficient. Alvord may have done a good deed, but we know that he did something wrong in the first place. In the Bible, there is only one man who has never sinned, yet offered all of himself to save mankind. Alvord may have shown us acts that reflect the person of Christ. He might have demonstrated some images of neighborly love. There is no one righteous but one. Let those who have sinned, sin no more. Let those who have not sinned beware of potholes of temptations. Above all, every single person needs to confess their weaknesses, their sins and ask for forgiveness. Let that desire for forgiveness be reflected powerfully through our actions, our virtues and our relationships. Let there be love. Let there be neighborly love.

Final Comments
I cannot help but feel strange inside me, how such a news story can evoke amazement. If our society is a caring one, should not incidents like the Alvord-Larkin case be the norm? Should not the law be one that not only punishes but also restores? I think our society of me-ism has placed too much premium on self at the expense of others. Alan Paton's novel, entitled "Too Late the Phalarope" tells of a man who committed adultery, a terrible sin in his culture. Everybody rejected him, labeling him a social outcast. It takes a neighbor to say this:
"An offender can be punished (like the courts did to Alvord), but to punish and not to restore, that is the greatest of all offenses (society at large). . . if a man takes unto himself God's right to punish (the judiciary), then he must also take upon himself God's promise to restore." (Alan Paton)
I think our justice systems need to beef up the rehabilitation and redemptive path of restoring fallen people. One reason why our law enforcement agencies keep a list of past lawbreakers and extensive criminal records is because the percentage of repeat offenders are astronomically high. Is this a reflection of the culpable acts done by thugs and all kinds of criminals? Or is this a worrying trend that our justice systems are grossly lopsided toward punishment instead of restoration? I think it is important to remember the following from parental counseling.

- "Praise publicly, Rebuke privately."
- "For every one negative feedback, surround it with ten positives."

Perhaps, our lack of redemptive strength is because we fail to forgive enough. George MacDonald gives a profound observation when he compares a forgiver with a murderer, saying that one who forgives not, is worse.
It may be infinitely worse to refuse to forgive than to murder, because the latter may be an impulse of a moment of heat, whereas the former is a cold and deliberate choice of the heart. (George MacDonald)
We can all do our part by first being a good neighbor. That is the best way to make amends for our past, commend the positives of those present around us, and to recommend others over self. Have a great week.


No comments:

Latest Posts