For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20; New Living Translation)
Reconciliation. We reconcile bank accounts and we reconcile ourselves to the consequences of certain decisions. But the most difficult reconciliation of all involves two people or two groups laying aside their conflict and choosing to live in peace.
In 1969, the state of California established a purely no-fault divorce law. This allowed a husband or wife to file for divorce on the simple basis of “irreconcilable differences.” No further explanation was required.
Reconciliation is difficult.
In 1996, with the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, the South African government set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It allowed both victims and perpetrators to tell their stories, because reconciliation initially requires truth-telling. The Commission served a valuable purpose in highlighting the evil of apartheid, even if full reconciliation remained elusive.
Reconciliation is difficult, whether it’s nation with nation, race with race, church members with church members, husbands with wives, or parents with children. What does it require?
Professor Miroslav Volf has written and spoken powerfully on this topic. He concludes that there are five basic steps to meaningful reconciliation.
1. Remember rightly. The memory of victims is very long, but not always right. Perpetrators’ memories are usually very short. We must remember rightly.
2. Forgive. Forgiveness is a gift, and means that we no longer count against the other the wrongdoing done to us.
3. Apologize. One of the signature marks of sin is that it never wants to be itself. It wants to explain, excuse, justify, or compare itself. An apology, on the other hand, requires specific naming.
4. Repair. For forgiveness to reconstitute relationships, repair is essential. This means making meaningful restitution.
5. Embrace. This powerful metaphor comprises four steps: First, open arms – it begins with vulnerability. Second, waiting – at least a moment. The other must come of their own freewill. This offers both freedom and respect. Third, arms close mutually. Authentic embrace cannot be forced or imposed. Fourth, opening of the arms again. The other person needs their own space despite the embrace – “letting go.”
This brings us back to the apostle Paul’s words to the Colossians. “Through Christ, God has reconciled everyone and everything to Himself.”
What an extraordinary act on His part. While He was the offended (not the offender), without blame, and without responsibility, yet while we were still sinners and enemies and hostile towards Him, “through Christ, He has reached out to us to reconcile us to Himself.”
Dealing with conflict right now? Can we take such high ground ourselves with each other? Christ’s example motivates us. Volf’s model (grounded in Scripture) guides us. May today be filled with reconciliation and hope.