Retributive Justice is not Restorative Justice

I was reminded in Richard Rohr's book Breathing Underwater: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps there is a difference between retributive and restorative justice. Retributive justice is something that most of us most of the time think of when we think of "justice". It looks something like this:

sin -- punishment -- repentance -- transformation 

We see this pattern in the American Justice system. There is a crime and then there is a punishment (prison) and we will let you out if you show remorse (repentance) and once one has "paid their debt" or "served their time" we hope they are transformed. While this system may bring about a sense of satisfaction to those who have been wronged, it does not lead to reconciliation or wholeness. This is why we see so many repeat offenders in the system. On some level we know this pattern does not work because we have become suspicious of anyone in prison who has "found Jesus". Even if the offender has been transformed, the offended and society wit large has not. 

Restorative Justice looks a bit different and it is the way God deals with creation:

sin -- unconditional love -- transformation -- repentance 

Notice that with every infraction, the response from God is always grace and love - not punishment as we often were told and/or treat one another. If you are given grace after an infraction, then there is a chance for transformation. It is not guaranteed that love will transform a person in just an instant. The person has to receive that grace/love and see that it really is grace and love - not a trap for manipulation. If transformation happens, then there is repentance. The person realizes that they cannot go back to being the way they were and they live a new life. 

This may be why, in part, the musical Les Miserables has had such staying power. One of the main characters was caught stealing from a priest and when the police apprehend the thief, the priest does not press charges and thus send the thief back to prison, but instead says, that there was no way the man could have stolen the silver because the silver did not belong to the priest. Additionally, the priest said, "you left in such a hurry that you forgot these candlesticks." The priest was working for restoration while the police were working for retribution. And it was the restorative work of the priest that changed Jean Valjean forever.