I’ve been reflecting on reconciliation lately. A word and action that has had an interesting relationship with me over the years. I’ve had to ask for forgiveness a handful of times (ok, VASTLY more times) but reconciliation? That’s different. That’s more than forgiveness, that’s a full-on restoration where two become one again. “Reconciliation” in the truest sense is a biblical word and command. But we’ll get there.
It seems more often than not that I have failed at reconciliation. We’ve all had arguments and misunderstandings that have led to failed relationships. Some of them led to forgiveness while others drifted off like mist or smoke. I have had to ask for forgiveness as well as give it and yet with many of them there was no work at reconciliation. In some cases we both moved on with our lives. In some instances the “moving on” was easy because we didn’t live near each other any longer. In some cases we tried to ignore the hurt and push through the relationship but it never worked. It was more like both of us were trying to sweep it under the rug or shove it into a closet, never to be opened again. But we both knew the rug had a lump in it and never should we open the closet less we die from the avalanche of hurt.
The problem is that it’s not only not healthy but it’s not the way we, as believers, are to live. Relationships are important as they are part of the very being and nature that we were created in. To be created in the “image of God” (Gen 1:27) is to be relational in every sense of the word. We’re called to do life with one another in all its ups and downs. We’re supposed to realize the impact we have on each other and need for you in my life and me in yours. Relationships that took a hit don’t mend on their own. We say “time heals” but it really doesn’t. It just exacerbates our brokenness and drives a wedge in our lives.
Many of us find ourselves saying that, “We’ve forgiven ______ for what they have done” and yet we haven’t. I’m sure many of us also have said “they have forgiven me” but we’re always wondering if they really have. And in the end both of those are a false comfort. Because forgiveness and reconciliation, while very similar, are completely different. While we may seek forgiveness what we desperately want is reconciliation.
So what’s the difference? Forgiveness allows us to be in the same room without shooting daggers at the other person but reconciliation means I enter the room, see you and embrace you as a brother/sister with all the love and hope in the world. And here’s the big thing: we can forgive without reconciling but we cannot reconcile without forgiving. And when it’s all said and done God calls us to be reconciled with one another.
Too many times we go through life without reconciling our relationships. Too often we hope and pray that our time, our distance, and our memories, will allow broken relationships to mend. We hope for this because reconciliation is hard and painful and requires a lot of work. It requires two to come together and work things through. It requires you to not only apologize but hear the hurt your words/actions had. It requires re-living past harm as well as vulnerability. But the biggest difference? To be reconciled with someone is done externally. This is why the cross plays such a major role in our lives.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:32 that God “forgave” us for our sins and trespasses against him. And this is important for us to understand because our sins are atrocious and wide-spread. We sin against God, each other, and ourselves each and every day. But those trespasses, those grievous sins, are not only forgiven but we are reconciled with God. Christ and his work upon the cross (2 Corinthians 5:18; Romans 5:10), atoned, washed clean, and restored us with God. Through the cross and Christ God not only forgives but he restores us. The cross becomes the hinge on the door of grace.
I think for God “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” are one in the same…but for you and I they aren’t. And I say that because God is complete in his love and goodness while we are not. When God forgives he completely washes us clean. When God forgives there aren’t feelings of animosity or jealousy or any left-over remnants of anger for what we have done to him. Just like the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), God, in his graceful love, sees us and comes running in full embrace as his love envelops us. Even though we’ve harmed him his love and mercy washes over us. For God, Forgiveness = Reconciliation and Reconciliation = Forgiveness.
But you and me? We cannot have them both together and zero differences between. Both of them are hard and different. We could forgive today and then take years to reconcile. We actually may NEVER reconcile! And yet the encouragement from God is that we ARE to move into reconciliation. We need to not only forgive but we need to embrace, love, and be reconciled (restored). We read in Hebrews 12:14 that we are to strive for peace and seek holiness. Last I checked any ill feelings or pushed-under-the-rug anger is NOT living a holy life.
So let us reconcile our struggles with reconciliation. Let us move from “hoping our anger and differences dissipate on their own” to fighting our fears, uncomfortableness, and desire to ignore the harm and seek to restore broken relationships. We need to remember that we are important to each other and fighting to reconcile a broken relationship is important. It was important to God – so why shouldn’t it be important to us? And in the end doesn’t all of scripture proclaim God’s reconciliation with his fallen and broken people? And that’s something no amount of time would have healed.