Why Make Amends?
I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment . . . I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. Philemon 1:10-12
Step nine of Alcoholics Anonymous says that in recovery we must make amends to those whom we’ve harmed in our drug and alcohol use. Why is this important? Why must we revisit the past, attempting to reconcile with those we’ve hurt? Can’t we just forget the past, moving forward?
When life fell apart due to my addiction, I lost my job and went to treatment where I was drowning in guilt over what I’d done. I asked forgiveness from God. I repented and began turning my life around. While enslaved to my addictive behavior, I couldn’t look at God and so, recovery meant returning to him. I found significant comfort in being restored to that relationship. God wasn’t the only one with whom I needed to reconcile though. I hurt a lot of people, none more than my family, who bore the brunt of my disaster. For me to find peace, I needed to attempt make amends with them. The only cure for my shame was to do whatever was possible to fix the relationships that I’d broken
Today’s passage – the story of Philemon and Onesimus – provides some insight into the Biblical principle of making amends. In the story, Philemon was a church leader in Colossae whom Paul had likely led to faith years before. Philemon once had a bondservant named Onesimus who stole from him and subsequently ran away. Onesimus then met Paul and became a Christian. In today’s passage, Paul wrote to Philemon, asking him to forgive Onesimus. And who was to deliver this letter? Onesimus himself carried Paul’s request to Philemon. Under Roman law, Philemon apparently had the right to punish or even execute Onesimus, so it was with no small risk that Onesimus returned to Philemon. Paul believed that for the good of both men though, the two must be reconciled and the offense must be put to rest. As a follower of Christ, Onesimus needed to do whatever he could to make amends, even if doing so cost him greatly. Paul sent Onesimus, not knowing the outcome. Because the letter was preserved, we do believe that the two were reconciled.
In recovery, we also must do what we can to make amends to those we’ve hurt, even when it comes at a significant cost. Sometimes we must make financial restitution, but most often, our amends will be to pursue faith and recovery every day for the rest of our lives. In our addiction, we hurt others. Now, in recovery, we must do whatever it takes to live in such a way that makes amends for that hurt.