Beyond Forgiveness to Reconciliation
Catholic Way – Just because we don’t hold grudges doesn’t mean that we are living up to the true Christian ideal of reconciliation. Pope John Paul II reminds us with both his words and his action that true reconciliation is not achieved by merely tolerating those who may have hurt us, but by actively embracing them in love.
In the Jubilee Year the pope is on a mission and his mission is reconciliation.
Not only has Pope John Paul II written and preached about forgiveness and reconciliation, he has incarnated it. His trip to the Holy Land last March toppled centuries-old walls of resentment, anger, and alienation. Where others barely achieved a crack, the pope sent walls tumbling down.
Why? Because the pope goes beyond forgiveness to reconciliation. He lives out St. Paul’s words in 2 Cor 5:18: “All this has been done by God, who has reconciled us to Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
What is this ministry of reconciliation? Certainly reconciliation involves forgiveness and an apology, but it’s more. Reconciliation goes beyond words to actions. Reconciliation restores the relationship to where it was before the offense. It accepts and integrates the offender back into our life.
This is not the “gospel” most of us want to hear; however, it was precisely the good news that Bishop Joseph Ekuwen of Nigeria announced at a national Catholic conference in England this past summer. In explaining the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, Bishop Ekuwen said: “When someone offends you and makes an apology, you forgive them but keep them at an arms distance. You refuse to re-admit the other into your life. When you do this, reconciliation is missing.”
Instead of keeping the other at an arm’s distance, the bishop said, we must ask God for the grace of reintegration, of restoration. We must accept the offender back into our lives just as God accepted us back into His life. To illustrate his point, he turned to the parable of the prodigal son.
I have to admit that when he mentioned the prodigal son I rolled my eyes. What more was there to learn from this parable that has been milked for all its jubilee worth? Of course, I was wrong. Here’s a condensed version of Bishop Ekuwen’s explanation:
At one point in time (i.e., before original sin), we lived in harmony with the father (God) and the elder brother (others). We lived in joy and happiness. Then, through our offense (wishing the father were dead, i.e., original sin) we broke the relationship and went our own way. However, despite our unfaithfulness, God was always faithful; he was constantly expecting our return. When we return, the Father not only forgives us, He reconciles us to the family (i.e., the ring, robe, sandals, and festive celebration). He reintegrates us into the life of the family.
And what’s the elder son’s beef? He would hear nothing of reconciliation. He didn’t want to take his brother back into the family. He wanted to keep him at an arms distance. He refused to restore the relationship to where it was before the offense.
Wow, did that make me look at my relationship with God differently! I finally understood reconciliation not merely as God turning a blind eye to all the bad things I’ve done, but reintegrating me into the family. God doesn’t keep me at an arms distance, but he puts me right in the middle of the perfect family, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And what about my relationship with others? As children of God we must try to live out our Christian life in imitation of God. That means we can’t just forgive, we must also reconcile. Here, Bishop Ekuwen was very direct: “Is there someone on this globe who offended you and you have forgiven, but not allowed back into your life as it was before the offense?” he asked the crowd. “This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of our Christian life because many people forgive, but they do not reconcile, they do not take back fully those who offended them.”
He’s not kidding. I’ve seen it in living color: families split by squabbles over money; two Christian sisters who were best friends but now cordially tolerate each other because of an incident with their children; spouses who occupy the same living quarters but are emotionally distant. As for me, it didn’t take two seconds for the Holy Spirit to show me the people I keep at an arms distance: my former husband, two of my sisters, friends whose values I don’t share. And now the bishop asking me to integrate these people back into my life. That’s beyond heroic; it’s saintly.
But that’s precisely why Pope John Paul II makes headway. He never keeps another at arm’s distance Jew, Orthodox, humanist, or assassin. He didn’t just speak about forgiving his assassin; he went to his prison cell and embraced him. He welcomed him back into his life, into the family, thus reminding the whole world that God has welcomed us back in Christ.
In this Jubilee Year, may each of us embrace this ministry of reconciliation. May we become imitators of God and Pope John Paul II by going beyond forgiveness to reconciliation.
The conversation began something like this, “Mike, you are a really good guy. I think the world of you. We couldn’t have done this without you …” While such words were certainly nice to hear, I began to prepare myself for the one word that would change the entire tone of this moment.
I could almost feel it coming — can you? We all know it. The word is,
In a situation like this, the word BUT acts as a verbal eraser. It eclipses the sunshine of affirmation and shadows our hearts with words that sting. It erases any memory of the praise we just received. The darkness of shame imprints our hearts as we listen to what we should be doing or what we should not have done in the first place. These are the words that stay with us — permanently engraved on our hearts. The words of praise and affirmation are but a mirage, a false promise that we have learned not to trust.
BUT, know this …God has an eraser of His own. Unlike the ones with which we are familiar in personal relationships, God’s eraser is a wonderful instrument of comfort.
While people use the word “but” to shadow words of praise and affirmation with those that wound and often scar, God’s eraser does just the opposite. His eraser permanently and forever replaces words of condemnation and judgment with eternal promises of hope and praise.
Romans 5:8, Romans 11:22 and Ephesians 2:4 are some of many places in Scripture where the words “but God” remind us He erases the bad and replaces it with the good. His eraser offers the promise of hope and the certainty of His love.
The challenge of the Christian life is reminding ourselves to live on the right side of God’s easer. If you know Christ personally, your sins have been forgiven — erased — and replaced with the promise of an eternal home with the One whose love never fails. God’s eraser tells those of us who believe in Him our sins have been forgiven and we have the promise of eternity in the presence of the One whose love for us is certain.
The story of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers shows how God also uses His eraser in the midst of human evil. Joseph was well acquainted with the evil things people do to one another and was now face-to-face with his brothers who’d treated him with unspeakable cruelty. He acknowledges this when he says, “You meant evil against me …” (Genesis 50:20b).
His next words reveal what Joseph had learned about God’s grace and the mystery of His ways … “but God meant it for good …” (Genesis 50:20c).
Joseph is now able to see how God had been at work to bring good — both to him and his family — in the midst of human evil. Joseph had come to understand that God is always at work to bring about what is ultimately good and will use the evil of mankind for His purposes.
Knowing the end of the story helps us see the whole picture of God’s purposes for Joseph’s suffering. But when the story is ours, how easily do we reconcile the idea of God’s goodness in the midst of our own difficulties? How do we rest when we see the incredible brokenness around us?
It’s easy to question the goodness of God when suffering in the present tense. In moments when it seems God is nowhere to be found and there is no answer to the question, Why is this happening? … look to the cross.
You might not get an answer to your “why” questions, but the cross — God’s grand eraser — tells us one thing about suffering: It’s NOT happening because God doesn’t care about us, or because He has forgotten us. The cross reminds us everything has been (and will be) made right.
Living on the right side of the eraser means we focus our hearts more on our Savior than our circumstances and trust His ways are meant for our good and His glory. Always.
Father, thank You for the comfort of knowing Your goodness is steadfast and everlasting. Forgive us for those times when we are tempted to allow difficult circumstances to tell us otherwise. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Streams In The Desert
By: L. B. Cowman
When the cloud tarried… then the children of Israel… journeyed not (Numbers 9:19).
This was the supreme test of obedience. It was comparatively easy to strike tents, when the fleecy folds of the cloud were slowly gathering from off the Tabernacle, and it floated majestically before the host. Change is always delightful; and there was excitement and interest in the route, the scenery, and the locality of the next halting-place. But, ah, the tarrying.
Then, however uninviting and sultry the location, however trying to flesh and blood, however irksome to the impatient disposition, however perilously exposed to danger — there was no option but to remain encamped.
The Psalmist says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.” And what He did for the Old Testament saints He will do for believers throughout all ages. Still God often keeps us waiting. Face to face with threatening foes, in the midst of alarms, encircled by perils, beneath the impending rock. May we not go? Is it not time to strike our tents? Have we not suffered to the point of utter collapse? May we not exchange the glare and heat for green pastures and still waters?
There is no answer. The cloud tarries, and we must remain, though sure of manna, rock-water, shelter, and defense. God never keeps us at post without assuring us of His presence, and sending us daily supplies.
Wait, young man, do not be in a hurry to make a change! Minister, remain at your post! Until the cloud clearly moves, you must tarry. Wait, then, thy Lord’s good pleasure! He will be in plenty of time!
–Daily Devotional Commentary
An hour of waiting!
Yet there seems such need
To reach that spot sublime!
I long to reach them–but I long far more
To trust HIS time!
“Sit still, my daughter”–
Yet the heathen die,
They perish while I stay!
I long to reach them–but I long far more
To trust HIS way!
‘Tis good to get,
‘Tis good indeed to give!
Yet is it better still–
O’er breadth, thro’ length, down length, up height,
To trust HIS will!
–F. M. N.