Practical Problems that Come in Restitution!

Practical Problems that Come in Restitution!

Richard Hollerman

Elsewhere we have addressed some aspects of this subject of repentance as it relates to restitution. You may have examined the article entitled, “Repentance and Restitution for Your Past Sins.” You will find it here.

Since this subject is such a troubling and troublesome one for most people, it deserves another examination. We know that some people in our modern “liberal” age, along with particularly strong and soft Calvinistic circles, would have little interest or concern in making restitution. We think that those who respect the authority of Scripture would have a much stronger interest in this subject. In fact, this topic would have a crucial aspect to it in coming to Christ and maintaining a close relationship with Him!

What is Restitution?

First, let’s consider, “What is restitution?” It has been defined as, “the restoring to the rightful owner of something that has been taken away, lost, or surrendered.” Again, “the act of making good or compensating for loss, damage, or injury” (The American Heritage College Dictionary). It is “reparation made by giving an equivalent or compensation for loss, damage, or injury caused” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary).

Before we proceed further, let’s remember the case of Zaccheus, the “chief tax collector” in Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). When he repented of his sinful (greedy and dishonest) life, he said to Jesus, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much” (v. 8). He didn’t just tell the Lord that he wanted to have a different life, that he wanted God to forgive him, or that he wanted to live differently. No, he wanted to “pay back” what he had taken wrongfully. This would have been a form of restitution.

The matter of restitution is clear enough, but the problem comes in carrying this out. We do know that when a person repents of some sin, often some act of “restoring” needs to be made or some act of “reparation” needs to be completed. In other words, if a person has stolen $1,000 from a store where he worked a month ago, that money would need to be repaid. If one recognizes that this act of stealing or theft was sinful, then we can also see that we must pay back the amount that was stolen—the $1,000.

Certain factors would need to be thought through and worked out, such as when it could be repaid, how it could be repaid, what is to be done if the store went out of business, or what should one do if he or she has moved to another part of the country—or to another country? Perhaps also, if one is very poor, how can anything be paid back immediately? Should one make some sort of arrangement for the amount to be paid back? The paying back as reparation would need to be made (and most of our readers would see this)—but how is it to be paid back, when, and under what conditions?

Examples of Restitution

The above example of stealing money and paying it back as restitution would be somewhat simple and straightforward, but we can all agree that there are many difficult issues that are not as easy to resolve. For instance, consider these examples:

First, what if a person has stolen, not $1,000, but $50,000 or $300,000. How can this be repaid? Would it need to be repaid? If so, under what conditions and how?

Second, suppose a person has had a habit of driving his car in a reckless manner—and then has a serious car wreck. In the accident, he injures another driver so seriously that the person can’t work for a year or even a lifetime! Can anything be done about this that would manifest restitution to the injured person?

Third, imagine that an adolescent is taking unlawful drugs and offers this to his friend. That friend drives home and is involved in a terrible car accident that results in an injury or even death. What can the irresponsible teen do about his involvement in this wreck?

Fourth, imagine that a selfish teen boy or young man in his twenties commits fornication with the result that a pregnancy occurs. If the girl agrees to it, she may kill the baby through abortion. But if she doesn’t agree to it and insists on keeping the child, what should the repentant boy now do?

Fifth, if a student has consistently cheated on his tests for several years and finally graduates. How can a young man or young woman do anything about their sin of cheating that has been carried on for a long while?

Sixth, if a middle-aged man or woman has gambled and either won or lost at the game, then comes to repentance, how would restitution be made in this case? If the amount won is to be paid back—perhaps $5,000 or $40,000—to whom should it be paid back?

Seventh, if a teacher has taught the false and evil theory of evolution to tenth, eleventh, or twelfth graders, then he or she repents, how can he or she make restitution for the many hearts and minds perverted and lives changed over a career of ten, twenty, or thirty years?

Eighth, suppose a professing Christian has a job in an aircraft plant where fighter bombers are built—and he has an integral part in this activity. When he repents, how should his restitution be carried out?

Ninth, suppose a professing Christian has not been giving of her means for twenty years or perhaps she has been giving very little while, at the same time, she has bought newer cars and lives in a fashionable house. How can she make restitution of, say, $300,000 (twenty years times $15,000)?

Tenth, perhaps a father has sent his children to the secular worldly state schools. If he does this for 14 years for three children, how can he make restitution when he comes to himself and recognizes the damage he has done to the mind and heart of those children?

Eleventh, if a Christian woman has not read much of her Bible for thirty years, how can she make restitution after all of this time?

Twelfth, if a family has sent their children to the worldly public schools for many years, how can they repent and make restitution after all of this time—especially if the children are not at all interested in leaving the school?

Thirteenth, if a Christian woman has worn immodest or unfeminine clothes all of her life and she now is fifty-five, how can she make restitution for those many years—now that she seeks to repent of her immodesty?

Fourteenth, imagine that a man has watched ball games every week for many years or watched sitcoms for those years, how would the Lord want him to make restitution and how could this be done?

Restitution under difficult circumstances

Depending on the circumstances, many of these examples could be solved but they might require formidable effort, much money, and a great amount of time. Besides all of this, we know that some embarrassment could be experienced. Of course, we must remember also that professing “Christians” who are not at all interested in following Jesus in a practical way may make fun of you!

Further, there is the matter of marriage to an unbelieving spouse. Suppose that a man is married to a non-Christian wife and she is not interested in making restitution for her many years of immodest or unfeminine clothing. Or perhaps a husband/father is not interested in making restitution for the many years that he has been content to allow the worldly secular schools to corrupt the minds and lives of his children; how is he to proceed in this matter?

Then there is the problem of finances. Perhaps the person or couple conclude that they have failed to use their money properly. How can they make restitution if they have misspent $200,000 or $750,000 over the years? They might need to sell their house, sell much of their clothes, and begin to drive older cars just to try to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars!

If a sincere woman is married to a worldly husband and he is not at all interested in making restitution, what is she to do? Or if a devoted Christian man is married to a greedy wife, how can he make restitution if this requires moving to a tiny house and driving older cars? If the spouse or child is disabled in some way, it may be difficult for this Christian family to “catch up” in using their money and possessions for the glory of God.

If a Christian determines that he must leave the worldly labor union and this connection is necessary to retain his job, how can he begin to deal with this problem? And what should he do with the hundreds of thousands in money he has earned over the years?

We might also mention this: Suppose that a woman has been a wage-earner for seven, fifteen, or forty years. Then she comes to understand that she should never have left her children to be educated by the worldly state school system. Additionally, she concludes that she should have spent all of that time “keeping house” (1 Timothy 5:14) as a “worker at home” (Titus 2:5).

The family has come to depend on her financial contribution to keep the ship afloat. Further, they can’t at all see how they could survive without her financial support. Even more difficult, what if she and her husband decide to make restitution for the past time she has been part of the workforce. Even if it was an honorable position, it might be a matter of $1 million. How could this be repaid? And to whom would she and her husband pay this huge amount?

We can see that following Jesus is far, far more costly than we ever imagined! We might also need to face this question: Should the Christian just begin to live for Jesus presently and forget about his sinful decisions of the past? Obviously, this would be much easier. It would avoid many of the huge problems with debt, with downsizing, with finding different employment, and much more.

Following the Lord Jesus in Difficult Times

We have discussed somewhat the matter of restitution for the person who seeks to repent of his or her sins. Although the average person may overlook this response of repentance given to the Lord, you can see that there is much involved in it.

Under the Law of Moses or the First Covenant, restitution was a matter of specific amounts (see Exodus 22:1; Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:7). However, under Christ this was more a matter of decision on the part of the one who repents. You may remember that Zaccheus “gave back” four times as much as what was owed to the person defrauded. In addition, he gave “half” of his possessions to the poor (Luke 19:8). We don’t know how much this would be. Nor do we know if he had to leave his job of tax collector, or find a different way of earning an income, or whether he needed to move to a different house. It is left in the realm of silence.

Maybe it would be the same today. We may not be able to put a specific amount for a person who seeks to make restitution. Many different factors would enter into such a decision. We refer to one’s present financial ability, the amount of time given for repayment, the ability to remember how much is owed, whether a person has given other amounts at other times for other reasons. If a decision is to be made, probably it is better to err on the part of generosity.

From what you can see here, if all of this were implemented, there would be a radical readjustment of priorities and a recommitment of material goods. There would be great amounts of money taken from one source and given to another source. There would be much selling and giving. One’s financial and material resources would be turned upside down through radical giving! Further, think of the marital conflict that could ensue if this were carried out!

Remember how the early Christians did this. Luke tells us of the experience of those on Pentecost after they came to Christ. We read, “All those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:44-45). A little later, we read something similar: “The congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not own of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (4:32).

This shows a radical commitment of money and possessions for the benefit of other saints. Although nothing is mentioned here of restitution, we can imagine that a radical commitment to financial and material restitution could result in a similar sharing of goods with all, especially the poor and needy.

Although we may not have precise directions on how restitution is to be made, we are thankful for the little light that we are given on this. It points us in the right direction and shows us the mind of God. Let us fulfill what we can to show our repentance in this way. Let us remember Paul’s own commitment to the Jews and Gentiles, “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20b). Part of these “deeds” could be making restitution!


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