How are we to pursue reconciliation? Is reconciliation a legitimate or worthy goal? How do we define it? How do we know when it has been achieved, and is it achievable at all?
If reconciliation is making something whole again, if it is making peace, if it bringing what has been torn back together so that it is mended where then do we begin in measuring the break, the wound, the rupture, and the alienation?
How deep must the wound be before we say it is incurable? How strong must the pain, hurt, and bitterness be before we admit we can’t get over it, we can’t overcome its distraction? Pain has a way of grabbing our attention and it tends to distort our perspective and relationships. It was meant to do that so we would understand our peril and our body or soul’s clamor for survival.
Reconciliation is a big word and the Bible applies it to various kinds of relationships. In theology the biggest meaning is with the human race and God, with those who were of the first Adam and now included in the second Adam. The next biggest meaning is with people groups, especially between Jews and Gentiles, but by extrapolation and extension then between all sub groups of Gentiles. The third and most personal is between persons, especially between believers.
In parallel with the doctrine of reconciliation and its practical application is the reality and demand of love. Love is of course the motivator of reconciliation; God’s love. God is the one whose own creation has been marred and broken. The creatures of God are the ones who rose (and fell) into rebellion and have attempted to hide from him, deny his Lordship, then deny his existence, and to attempt to kill him both by unbelief and crucifixion.
Mankind is the sinner, and God is the lover. God is also the offended party with every right to anger and the claim of justice. Though rejected God is the pursuer, and it is left to him to find some remedy; not simply for his justice but also for restoration. It is left to him because the wound we have caused between ourselves and God is too great for us,(we who are the guilty), to close.
God is the model of reconciliation. He demands morality (and all that living justly demands), a demand as it were to go back to that first Edenic obedience. It is a preconceived and manipulative attempt to help mankind see his inability to ever make things up to God as obedience in the Edenic sense is, for all of us, now impossible. The Law is a school teacher to bring us to the Reconciler. The illumination of our incapacity is our gateway to salvation, the revelation of our inability for self-recovery and self-rehabilitation is the birth canal of our hope to and in a Savior who has the power not only to forgive, but to transform.
God is love and those born of God must love their brothers. Love demands reconciliation. Reconciliation is not simply a worthy goal, it is a necessary pursuit, an imperative. Reconciliation is as necessary to spiritual and relational healing (and as inevitable) as the closing of flesh is to the action of coagulating blood upon a cut.
Theologically speaking reconciliation has already happened in the sense that all the necessary work for it was accomplished by the activity of God upon the cross. God provided for the satisfaction of His justice at the cross. God’s anger was satisfied at the cross. God brought the Jews and Gentiles (and all the Gentiles in their various histories and war) together at the cross and made them “one” new man at the cross. God broke down the middle wall of partition between those who had the Law and the patriarchs and those who did not, at the cross. God ended the hostility with those who were separated between circumcision and uncircumcision, at the cross.
God knows no impossibility in reconciliation. The greatest sinner is not beyond his reach, the depth and depravity of mankind’s rebellion has not delayed or dismayed him. The judgement in the time of Noah showed how close we came to an eternal schism, the violence of man ended God’s patience with those of earth, yet God saved a remnant. In that remnant contained not only the seed of the woman (Christ) but the seed of all the hate monsters that make history so depressing. God would not give up and God has not given up.
Have we sinned since reconciliation? Let each person confess the truth for themselves. Yet reconciliation remains an accomplished fact of God, and provides the continued hope of forgiveness, though our lives sometimes scandalize the continued grace of God.
Do we wound each other as nations, as ethnic groups? How much horror or national shame can we endure, how much hurt can we bear, how much failure of our very humanity can we admit without recognizing ourselves as beasts, and how can we live with that? How much revenge do we want, how much reparation? And even if money was given, what heals the trauma, and who brings back the dead?
Love must pursue reconciliation. It is the only thing strong enough for its motion, the only thing to make the unreasonable reasonable. Love forgives, love will not hate a brother. Love makes “the other” our brother, our neighbor. Mercy is the payment by the wronged for the unpaid debt of the one who did the wrong. Zaccheaus stated he would make restoration, but Jesus was already on the way to his house, already calling him out of his tree, giving grace previous to restitution. Reconciliation pursues and precedes and restitution follows. Sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it can’t.
Some things between nations can’t and won’t be fixed, though that doesn’t mean those with love and a conscience won’t (or shouldn’t) pursue love and reconciliation with whatever resources and tools they have. Sometimes reconciliation cannot happen between persons; danger and death prevent it. Yet forgiveness must pursue, as far as it can, and that is driven by love. So what is left for those things unresolved? What is left for justice unsatisfied between nations or persons? If we are reconciled to God are we allowed to cease or suspend the pursuit of reconciliation in the world due to our own hurt, our own bitterness, our own sense of righteousness?
Self-righteousness does not heal, it drives us apart. We may be right about being wronged, and be totally wrong about how we try to make things right. The reality is that we may attempt to reconcile and fail in the attempt, we may be continually wronged even as we are ready to forgive, we may be hated and killed by those who hate us (justly or unjustly). Our doing right doesn’t guarantee anyone else will. But, if God has reconciled us to himself then we are impelled by the power of love to proclaim a message of reconciliation. We are caught up in the ministry of reconciliation because it is the ministry of God, not because it is our social or political passion. To be given the ministry of reconciliation means we must practice being peacemakers, and for the followers of Christ it cannot be replaced with anything less.
What about truth and justice? Do we simply deny these things, do we stuff our grief and carry our own sorrows? Honest reconciliation is one of integrity. Reconciliation is a truth telling work. In salvation God always calls us to repentance; God always calls us to the humility of honesty, to the brokenness of confession. Reconciliation is no easy work, not for the pursuer, nor for the guilty. Yet reconciliation is not a conditional love, it is not a hostage taker of relationship otherwise it would not be a peacemaker but a warmonger. God’s love sought us and found us, and we have to do that with each other.
What about what is unresolved, how can we let that lie, or sit, and how can we live with ourselves if we don’t wring out our full payment of blood? May God then treat you as you would treat others, may God then call for his last payment, not from his son but from you. Christian, we are called to a life of faith, and part of that faith is waiting for healing, and I make no light thing of the faith needed to wait for it. There is a tree there, in that city, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. It is obvious then that the unresolved must wait for the City which is to come.