There is a particular biblical passage I have heard cited twice in the last week and a half, and heard of being cited at least one other time, and as it is not a very commonly reflected on passage, its suddenly increased focus is of great personal interest to me, Acts 3:17-21: “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” We tend to think of reconciliation and restoration and restitution as good things, as if we will automatically receive blessings as a result of that process. Yet there is a need to keep in mind that reconciliation has at least two sides to it, and it is not always a matter to celebrate.
We ought to remember this in reflecting on where the term restitution comes up, as the concept of reconciliation is not far off in its negative sense. If someone is committed of a crime where some damage is done to the person or property of others, restitution is at least occasionally a penalty for the crime, seeking to restore what was defiled or degraded in at least some fashion to the best of our abilities, and to recognize that damage was done, even if we cannot fully repair it or bring it back to its original condition. IF we are honest about ourselves and our lives, we will recognize that others have harmed us and deserve to pay restitution, but we will also admit that we are not only sinned against but also sinners, not only those who have suffered loss from the behavior of others, but also people who have also caused damages to others and who owe restitution accordingly. We may desire to be reconciled with others, to enjoy a positive and friendly relationship, but others may simply want to reconcile accounts with us as best as possible, to receive what they feel is owed to them, and then to have nothing more to do with us than is minimally required to get along and to get what they are looking for. This presents obvious difficulties.
What is worthwhile and important to note is that both meanings of restitution and reconciliation are embedded within the observance of the Day of Atonement. On the one hand, the day is the one day where the high priest of ancient Israel was permitted to enter the most holy place to reconcile Israel to God. For believers, their fasting and worship was designed to reconcile them to God, to have their sins covered, and to be restored to lost family property at the time of the Jubilee, as well as to be reconciled to other believers. This is that positive side of restitution and reconciliation. Yet at the same time a sacrifice was required to cover the sins of the chief priest as well as the people of Israel so that they could be reconciled to God and to each other. Their enjoyment of the covering and mercy of God did not come with out a price. Neither does ours, a matter which the author of Hebrews is at pains to mention in his comparison of the old and new covenants. Yet even with this festival, the pronouncement of sins on the head of the Azazel goat and the imprisonment of Satan for the time of the Millennium signifies that God will reconcile accounts with our adversary as well, and that is not something that anyone wants. To receive mercy is to be treated better than we deserve, which will only come to those who are merciful and gracious to others. To receive what we owe is to receive judgement and death, and we all want better than that for ourselves.
The question remains for us, though, how we are to ensure that we see the beneficial and enjoyable side of reconciliation and restitution. For one, much depends on our maintenance and building up of relationships with God and with others. In the case of God, the pattern of desiring to rebuild or reconcile in relationships with mankind is massively present in scripture and in our own personal experiences. This desire to reconcile is not always obvious with others, and yet we are judged by the fruits that are present within our own lives, even if others may not always reciprocate in kind–their salvation is their own matter to seek out. So we are left with the reality that despite our best efforts, we may not always receive what we seek because others are not willing, and yet our ultimate reward and relationships may be far greater than anything we have seen or enjoyed in our lives. At least we may hope that the world to come and the life eternal has a lot more to offer than our own present existence, even if we will take our character with us, refined and purified and redeemed as it is through the trials and difficulties of this life. For this world and our lives in it are dark enough that the good kind of reconciliation would often be far better than we have seen in this vale of tears, and we were surely made for a better life than we have yet known.