Make up with God and with humans.


a private and public matter

Be ye reconciled with this page's sections:

Christian Spirituality > Reconciliation

Sometimes, the public must repent so they can be reconciled.

What is Reconciliation?

The idea of 'social repentance' and 'social reconciliation' sounds like a secularist sop, at first. The world loves to take aspects of the faith and take God out of them. But think about it: aren't these societal needs expressed in Scripture, too? The Hebrew prophets called on whole nations to stop doing evil -- and not just Judah, but Edom and Babylon and Egypt and Syria. The apostles practiced reconciliation, though fitfully, with lots of starts and stops, in whatever society ruled theirs. Even most bad regimes usually seek the positive, nation-building effects that help glue a society together, but for those to take place, reconciliation is needed.

So, what kind of sins might a nation, or a party, church denomination, ethnic group, or cultural sector within a nation, have to confess?

And what makes for reconciliation?

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Why Reconcile?

"People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes."
--- Dear Abby (Abigail vanBuren)

One of the things that is hard for a nation or a society to do is to come to grips with the evils it has done. It tries to make excuses, saying 'it was the best choice we had at the time' or 'we didn't know (better)', or 'we did what we were told', or 'that was our ancestors, not us'. There may, indeed, be some truth to the excuses, but not enough to justify our actions. There is no reconciliation without taking responsibility. The Bible says that there's a tie between what we know and what we are responsible for (for one instance, see Hebrews 10:26), and this is true of whatever groups, cliques, neighborhoods, ethnicities, classes, and races we are in, no less than for each of us as a person. There is also a bond between what we know that we are responsible to know, and what we are responsible for; deliberate (or even benign) ignorance is no excuse. Historically, it's always been very easy for us to plead ignorance, but very hard to really believe we're ignorant, because the truth is out there and some will see it, eventually toppling the house of cards that backs its evils.

When the powers in a society willfully and unjustly harm people, the Holy Spirit is disarmed from working through those powers-that-be, since the Spirit is not one to use force to take control. The Spirit can still be busily at work making reconciliation anyway, through believers from among the victims of the injustice. Those victims are, after all, the ones who need the binding of wounds and the caring and the feeding and the teaching, the ones who need the support of a powerful God. Reconciliation is a cornerstone of rebuilding a nation.

But it does not do for a Christian to sit back and scream ruddy murder. That does nothing to transform things or to make them better. The Spirit equips each believing Christian with gifts and skills, and opens doors of opportunity for using those gifts and skills in witness and service to other people. I believe that the New Testament holds within it the key to reconciling and rebuilding the societies we live in. But it won't be found by developing full-scale social ideologies or political platforms (which fail, and in any case always turn into socio-political idols). Reconciliation will be found by looking at the example of Christ, the words of the Prophets, and the letters of the apostle Paul.

When I look at all the conflicts in this world, open and sub-surface, I think of Christ. Christ had a way of turning the tables on the world -- and I don't just mean at the Temple. Christ stressed love, honesty, justice, diligence, active caring for others, and reconciliation. Christ made it clear that the relationship with one's neighbors was the key sign of the health of one's relationship with God (see especially Matt 5:21-24). Our societies need Christ's kind of reconciliation more than ever. Paul was even able to speak of Christians having a ministry of reconciliation. He set that ministry into the context of what Christ did in bringing us back together with God; thus, reaching people with the gospel message is the most important aspect of this ministry of reconciliation. Yet, the other part of a reconciliation ministry is that Christ liberates us all to live in solidarity with God and each other. I think a vision of reconciliation is the most important gift that Christian believers can give to the world and the political systems right now.

The ancient church, right from the start, had to deal with factions and separated groups, notably regarding non-Jews being brought into a Jewish faith held by Jewish people. This went beyond the mere ethnic question, but also to what God's covenant and God's promises were all about. They turned to what Jesus did as the answer to it. It says in Ephesians, chapter 2: "For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation." When Jesus said on the cross, "Father, forgive them...", He changed the meaning of 'them' forever. 'Them' are forgiven. 'Them' are loved by God. And the 'them' included those who thought of themselves as 'us', since both 'us' and 'them' were crucifying Jesus. In Jesus' forgiveness, the idea of being of greater value than 'them' was forever outlawed. The reconciling work of getting the no-longer-separated people to be a people was well under way.

Indeed, the ultimate reconciliation is already under way, that between God and God's entire fallen creation. Unlike in the responsibility chain above, God (the one who did NOT commit the sin or ruin the relationship) takes on the full role of the responsible One, and has brought it to the point of forming a new relationship. As usual, God caused reconciliation, we didn't. If God waited around for us to do it, it would never happen, for we tend to be irresponsible. That's what got us into this bind to begin with.

"Every act of forgiveness involves at least three elements:
  1. We rediscover the humanity of the person who has wronged us, seeing that individual as a human being, not just as the one who offended us;
  2. We surrender our right and desire to get even or punish the person;
  3. We revise our feelings toward the individual and are open to a new relationship built on mutual respect.
Seeing the person differently allows our feelings to change."
---- Lewis Smedes

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For example : The United States has had a long, frustrating time dealing with the truth about its racism. The general public has admitted to racism, and has called it a sin. But America is very fitful in turning away from that sin. Many people and power bases don't really want racism to end. It feels good to make sure that someone's below you. Do we know how to reconcile, in the face of that?

"The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he 'likes' them : the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on -- including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning. This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction...... The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become -- and so on in a vicious circle forever."
--- C.S. Lewis, *Christian Behaviour* (Macmillan, 1943), p.52-53

It's here that we run across some of the most important of those big, churchy words : confession, repentance, forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation. In confession, you admit not only to having done something, but also that it was wrong to do it. In repentance, you commit yourself to not do it again, knowing that the Holy Spirit is already working on it within you. God forgives the sinner who repents, and takes that burden of guilt off of you. When it can be done without causing further harm, you can then restore for the harm caused by the wrong that was done, repaying whatever it cost, rejecting angry words or the devious acts, and doing that which uplifts and empowers those whom you have wronged. With the effect of the wrongs softened or reversed, a new relationship can be started on a firmer and more truthful footing, and reconciliation takes place. (Indeed, the Roman Catholic term for their set format for this process is called "The Rite of Reconciliation".)

Knowing it's a sin is one thing. Discovering the many ways that this sin has affected you and the way you do things is another. We are called on to turn away from the sin of racism, not just admit that it's a sin. This takes repentance. We are called on to seek forgiveness from God. While an avowedly neutral society cannot be ordered to don sackcloth en masse, we can gather publicly and commit to the change, and the Christians of the nation can (as a citizen and as the Body) confess our sin before God and another (or many others) and seek God's forgiveness. Then, we seek forgiveness from those whom we wronged, and where we as persons harmed someone because of our racism, we try to make it up in a fitting way. While we still may not like the person(s), and may find the clash of lifestyle or philosophy to be too much to say 'friend', we can at least reach out to find the common ground and see if friendship develops, or at least the ability to work and live together. To that extent our ability to function with other human beings, in society or church or marriage and divorce -- in everyday life -- hinges on how we reconcile with each other.


"The goal of pursuit of justice must not simply be that justice happens but that reconciliation also happens."
--- Miroslav Volf, in an interview with Tracy Schier for the Lilly Endowment's Resourcing Christianity site

Reconciliation does not come easy. It's not just a political struggle, it's psychological, personal, and spiritual. Just about everyone has had something done to them, and has done something to someone. A lot of suffering has been caused. A lot of walls have been built. Again, God's own example teaches us a way out. Jesus made the moves to restore our relationship with God; he didn't wait for us to do it. The same is true of the Christian, to a point. While noone has the duty of bearing other people's sins (Christ did that, so noone else has to), everyone has the responsibility to own up to their own sins. When we sin as a nation or society, our chosen leaders, speaking on our behalf, have a responsibility to take care of. They are to get us to fess up to the sin in full public view, to decide to turn away from that sin, and to take action to make right the wrongs we have done and restore any damage done to others as much as can be done without creating a class of new victims.

Jimmy Carter called for a US President and Congress 'as good as its people'. Unfortunately, that is what they already are; their glories, goodnesses, foibles and evils are a concentrated version of the people who elected them. It's true of any democracy. But if that's all they are, then how can they call us into something better or deeper? If they can't, they are a big part of the problem. There is a call for something better and greater, coming from beyond any of us, a call for solid values that embrace a still-wispy future. But will we answer that call? And how will we answer it?
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Another page on the Spirit and the believer in their involvement in the public realm.

"You lose a lot of time hating people."
Marian Anderson

False prophets tell falsehoods. True prophets tell the truth.

A site user wrote:

>I'm doing a paper on the role that reconciliation plays in human
>experience and why it is essential to human growth and awareness,
>of the self, and the world. If you could, tell me your thoughts.

This is a 'fallen', broken world that isn't always what God wants it to be. Humans get damaged. We do hateful things, we distrust, we lie, we trick ourselves and each other, and we seek after our own interest, to hell with what others need. We don't grow, or grow all twisted up, when that happens. Hence the need to reconcile. This is true within each person, between people, in marriages and families, at the level of small groups, of towns, of peoples and nations, of the planet. It is also true of our relationship with God, but at least God did something about that, through Jesus. Through Jesus we also can find what's most needed to heal the other relationships, too, but that takes some of our own doings.

Jesus and His apostles kept pointing up what it takes to be reconciled :

It's hard work, but I think this kind of reconciliation is the greatest resource available to us in all relationships. It creates the space for love to grow, and creates true synergy for building up our lives.

Whether it be in marriages and divorces, or in conflicts like in the Middle East, people keep upping the ante, inflaming anger with calls for death, striking out at a wider circle than the ones who directly damaged them, ripping their wounds open wider in a tragically twisted call for justice or at least a demand for others' support. And the deeper the anger gets, the less we seem able to get out of it, the more hollowed-out we become inside, the more it seems right and justified to be slave to anger and bitterness. But no bad deed can ever make it right, it just keeps recycling it through an amplifier, triggering other bad deeds and more anger. It's not enough to say, 'Enough'; if the engines of the anger and hate are not destroyed, we'll be back at it again in short order. A process of reconciliation dismantles the engines and cuts off the fuel.

Anger and hatred and vengeance and bitterness seem like the reality of the world we live in. They're inescapable. But they're there because we hold onto illusions and lies : about how evil others are, how just our cause is, how our side is what's best, how economics or God or law or fairness or freedom are on our side. Reconciliation is a way to strip away the lies, clean the grounds, and build a new foundation for a new world. It is at the same time more true and more hopeful. It takes a lot of work, but the result is just about always worth it. I believe that God supports us when we reconcile. We like to think that we favor reconciliation too, but the track record says otherwise.

See what other related words mean, like atonement, expiation, and propitiation. Don't be afraid of such long and seemingly stuffy terms, for they point us to the key to our own reconciliation with God.

"Christian humanism is not based on the presumption that our humanity is self-justifying. Rather Christians are humanists because God showed up in Mary’s belly.
Stanley Hauerwas

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Reconciliation. Copyright © 1997-2012 by Robert Longman.