Whenever a relationship is damaged or derailed by conflict, reconciliation is always one’s hope. Unfortunately, reconciliation is not always possible, but forgiveness is. You can instantly forgive someone who has offended you- simply by practicing some empathy and grace. Jesus didn’t wait for his tormentors to apologize; rather, he forgave them as he hung there on the cross. However, the journey to reconciliation looks something like this:
1. Confession: the offender acknowledges that a wrong has occurred. He may attempt to explain why it happened or even why he intended no harm. Neverthe- less, he must be clear that he understands a sin has been committed or a problem has been created. You cannot actually work on an offense that is hypothetical: “if I hurt you” or ” that you misunderstood.”
2. Repentance is more substantial than an apology, more radical than remorse. When an offender repents of a wrong he has inflicted on a friend or loved one, he accepts responsibility and makes personal changes. Too often, an apology is offered simply to make the wrong-doer feel better. “I’m sorry” is neither magical nor biblical. Change is the only appropriate response to behavior that has wronged or wounded another human being.
3. Restitution is the act of repaying the person I have injured. If I damage your car, I repair it. If I communicate something false and harmful about you, I go to the people I have told and correct the impression I gave. Sometimes, it is impossible to repay the damage that has been done. Once in a while, the person who has been wronged may choose to overlook the damages and move forward. However, overlooking the damage is the choice of the person who has been injured not the person who committed the offense. What’s more, part of the act of repayment requires the offender to wait patiently for the loved one to recover emotionally. A repentant heart is never capable of saying, “Enough already, it’s time to move on!:”
4. Re-commitment happens when both parties are willing to make the adjustments to continue a relationship. As you can imagine, completely recovering a broken relationship may not always be healthy or advisable. If your friend and investment counselor embezzles your life savings, you should forgive him but you are not required to invest with him again. If an angry spouse loses control and injures a child, the offended spouse may eventually forgive the behavior, but may never allow the other parent to be in the house with the kids again. Re-commitment often requires a judgment call: would it be safe, healthy or prudent to restore the old ties completely? But if it’s workable, both parties must calmly embrace the changes in attitude and action that will be required to move forward together again.
5. Reconciliation is the restoration of the former relationship. It means the husband and wife are together again. It means the friends are able to spend quality time together again. It means the co-workers are able to cooperate again. But it does not mean the offense is utterly forgotten. Indeed, recalling what has transpired in the past is a reminder of why this relationship is so valuable; that is is worth some pain to retain this personal bond. The past offense must not be invoked constantly or held over the other person’s head, but it may never been completely mentally erased. God promises to do that but most humans can’t.
Reconciliation is a wonderful gift. It can make relationships stronger than before. It can teach insecure human beings to trust and to make allowance for the sins of others. It is not always possible, but for people of God, it is always the goal that has been set before us.
Lift up the Cross!