Feast upon the Word Blog

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Restitution: A Lesson From the Anti-Nephi-Lehies

Posted by NathanG on February 18, 2014

When I hear the word restitution, images come to mind of listing all my sins and coming up with ways to pay each and every person I have offended, and to pay back with interest.  Until this is completely accomplished, I cannot confidently approach God and ask for forgiveness.  I may even imagine the Law of Moses requirement, partly found in Exodus 22

 1  If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.

The chapter goes on to describe a number of offences and the proper amount of restitution for the crimes.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies tell a different story about restitution.  As the narrative goes, many Lamanites have been fully converted and have completely turned from any semblance of their prior sins, even to the point of burying their weapons and refusing to lift their weapons, even in self defense.  After failed attempts at taking their anger out on the Nephites, the (unconverted) Lamanites turn again to attack the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, and Ammon and the sons of Mosiah seek to persuade the Anti-Nephi-Lehies to take refuge among the Lamanites.  The Anti-Nephi-Lehi king responds (Alma 27:6-8)

But the king said unto them:  Behold, the Nephites will destroy us, because of the many murders and sins we have committed against them.

And Ammon said:  I will go and inquire of the Lord, and if he say unto us, go down unto our brethren, will ye go?

And the king said unto him:  Yea, if the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them.

I am impressed by the depth of humility the king has and the desire for making things right with the Nephites, even to the point of being their slaves until all debts had been paid.  However, the timing and order of things calls into question my initial thoughts on restitution.  The narrative makes no effort to say, “The Anti-Nephi-Lehies were converted, but there remained a heavy burden of guilt as they had yet to make proper restitution with the Nephites for their many crimes, and their repentance was not complete.”  It’s not until faced with the prospect of being among the Nephites, that any mention is made of making repairs with those people.

What does this teach about restitution?  Is restitution a necessary step of repentance?  It is going to be the desire of the truly penitent to try to repair any damages their actions may have caused, and they will not be satisfied until all has been done to repair the relationship that has been damaged.  Notice that the king is worried the Nephites will destroy them, so he is willing to be a slave until all hatred or animosity or ill feelings toward the Anti-Nephi-Lehies has been turned away.  Restitution becomes the actions to help the offended person be able to forgive.  Unlike the Law of Moses, which details how much should be paid back, the real price of restitution is not paid until forgiveness has been obtained.

As for restitution being a part of repentance, how were these converted Lamanites forgiven before they had made restitution?  For that matter, how was the guilt Alma the Younger experienced swept away before he even came conscious again?  He had no opportunity to even apologize to anyone before he describes being spiritually reborn.  He definitely made every effort the remainder of his life to help others find Christ, or to find Him again.  Restitution could then be defined as the efforts of any true disciple of Christ to remove any barriers in the way of others’ spiritual journey, especially those barriers he may have had part in placing, not as a prerequisite for forgiveness, but as the true fruits of repentance.

One Response to “Restitution: A Lesson From the Anti-Nephi-Lehies”

  1. BrianJ said

    I really worry about how we (Mormons) talk about repentance—all the steps and such like it’s an accounting matter. I much prefer the Pauline descriptions: the law is dead, etc.

    “It is going to be the desire of the truly penitent to try to repair any damages their actions may have caused, and they will not be satisfied until all has been done to repair the relationship that has been damaged.”

    We talked about justice today in my Sunday school class. Since the root “jus” means to make things even or matched up, we discussed how limited and limiting justice is: limited, in that the vast majority of wrongs cannot truly be righted (e.g., un-spread a rumor); limiting, in that justice only brings things back to where they started. What we really crave is exaltation.

    Repairing damages of our sins is a losing cause. Repairing relationships is not as it brings about the kind of oneness required for exaltation.

    Just a parting thought: maybe the Anti-Nephi-Lehies are only an example of repentance, but not a perfect example.

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