What does reconciliation look like? Has it occurred between two parties, simply because they are able to be courteous to each other? Is it possible to forgive without reconciliation occurring?
Forgiveness is the responsibility of the offended and it is required by God. It is not contingent on the offender apologizing or asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness is possible, even if the offender never realizes what they’ve done, or even if they refuse to take responsibility for their actions or words. Forgiveness does not release the offender from their guilt but it releases the offended from the burden. When we’ve been hurt by another person, it is a challenge to forgive but it is a choice that must be made and refusing to forgive, puts a wedge between us and God. You see, for the most part, forgiving is vertical – it is between you and God. He requires you to forgive, enables you to forgive and He restores peace between you and Him, when you forgive. Forgiveness is usually not a one-time occurrence but instead, many singular moments of obedience.
Biblical reconciliation, which brings lasting peace in a relationship, goes deep. In order for it to begin, both parties need to be ready. The offender will need to be ready to hear the entire truth of how they have hurt, without resorting to excuses or anger and ready to take responsibility. The offended must be free of bitterness and if they haven’t already done so, they must be ready to forgive. Reconciling is a process of deconstructing the relationship and then building it back up. It goes something like this: realization of wrongdoing, grief and remorse, confession or admittance, forgiveness desired and restitution, if necessary. Restoration of the relationship can now begin and trust can be rebuilt. In true reconciliation, there is no room for defensiveness or excuse making and if the offender is in this mode, it is not yet possible. If the hurt party is bitter, unforgiving and punishing, then it is not yet possible. Notice that in both cases, I have said “not yet”. Give it time and let God deal with the hearts of those that are involved. Pray for yourself and the other party. In time, there may be softened hearts and then the process can begin.
God’s word is our source of truth – so I would like to share my favorite story of offense, remorse, forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s the story of Joseph, which starts in Genesis 37. Joseph was a golden boy. He was gifted and favored by God and preferred by his earthly father. He attracted blessing but he was also the subject of jealousy and evil plotting. His own brothers concocted a plan to get rid of Joseph and he was sold into slavery. Once in a new land, Joseph was again favored but through a twisting of events, he was lied about and went to prison because of it. In prison, Joseph aided others and the person that he helped to get out of prison, forgot about him for years. Finally, through amazing circumstances Joseph was released from prison and became very powerful. If anyone had reason to be embittered, it was Joseph and he could have used his power to punish those who had hurt him but Joseph had a soft and forgiving heart, and most of all, he knew that his sovereign God would bring good out of all his hardships. Looking for help from the wealthy land of Egypt, his brothers came to this land where Joseph was now a powerful man. They never imagined that they would run into Joseph again. Joseph recognized them but they didn’t realize that the man in charge was their brother. In Genesis 42, we over-hear the brothers expressing remorse over what they had done to their brother and we see that Joseph was secretly listening to their discussion. In Genesis 44, the brothers lament that their current hardships must be a punishment for their previous sins. These are key moments in the story and I believe crucial to the reconciliation that is about to happen. Joseph reveals himself to them and there is a tender reunion and healing words. Without the brothers becoming remorseful and taking responsibility for their motives and actions, do you think that this family reunion would have played out this way? In order for reconciliation to occur, the offending party must be able to see how they have hurt the other party and then take the next courageous steps.
If you’ve hurt someone, the greatest gift that you can give to them, is to confess and apologize, naming the specific wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness. The magnificence of healing then begins to occur for both parties. If you have been accused of offending and are having trouble getting to the acceptance and confession stage, try remembering a time when someone hurt you. How did you feel? What would have helped you? Did they take responsibility or did they merely give you the “I’m sorry if” – the un-apology? The un-apology adds insult to injury. Remembering a time when we were the casualty, softens our heart and prepares us to take responsibility for our own actions and words.
Unfortunately, reconciliation doesn’t always occur. Sometimes the offender cannot be trusted. Sometimes the parties would rather avoid the unpleasantness of confrontation by playing nicey-nice or simply just avoiding the other party. Sometimes the involved hearts are hardened.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are to be continually forgiving each other and also praying for and being open to the possibility of reconciliation but it must be genuine biblical reconciliation. If you have hurt someone, check your heart for readiness and then it’s up to you to make the next move. If you’ve been hurt, prepare your heart for future reconciliation, by doing the work of forgiving, ridding yourself of bitterness and punishing attitudes. I hope that you’ll begin to travel the road of reconciliation and that you’ll be blessed with the final result of peace within your own heart and mind as well as peace between you and others.