Let’s think for a moment about what we all believe about forgiveness and reconciliation… and then compare our practical wisdom to our vision of God’s purpose.
Forgiveness is unilateral, correct? Jesus forgave the folks that crucified him, for example, stating that they didn’t know what they were doing. What does that mean? Doesn’t it simply mean that he did not want punitive action taken against them?
Forgiveness is an attitude we have toward someone who has hurt us. We all know this.
Forgiveness is not forgetting, not denying or downplaying the significance of an offense. To be really effective, the forgiver must own all the pain and acknowledge all the damage that has been done by the offender… whether we choose to confront them or not.
Forgiveness gives us the freedom to be joyful and patient, and choose the time we wish to confront the one who hurt us… if indeed that is an option.
Often there is no way to discuss the matter with the one who hurt us… they are dead, incapacitated, or we know they would hurt us even more if we approached them.
And yet we can still forgive as a unilateral action … a method of working out an understanding with God, or the Universe, that any consequences will be born by us unless and until we can find a way of healing and dealing with the matter — bringing reconciliation.
Reconciliation is the full healing of the relationship between injured parties.
To get to reconciliation it actually doesn’t require forgiveness. It requires rebuke, repentance, restitution to the extent possible as evidence of repentance, and then a process of rebuilding trust through small steps that weave a new fabric of relationship, thread by thread.
Reconciliation is 1000 times tougher than forgiveness.
Now, what do we expect from God in terms of his behavior toward human sin?
Do we expect him to forgive our sins? The world’s sins?
In reality, it seems to me he’s been doing that right along. I don’t think he’s sitting there, fuming, venting his frustration at the human race with Jesus and anyone else who will listen.
I think his forgiveness was shown, for example, when he didn’t push the lightning button and vaporize the soldiers and priests that put an innocent man to death. And Jesus talked about his Father’s example of sending the blessings of life … rain, sunshine, food … to the just and the unjust. And smiling while he does it. That’s forgiveness.
But reconciliation? That’s a much more difficult challenge. If Paul was correct, he stated that God’s intent is nothing less than the reconciliation of all people with himself and with each other.
Getting to that kind of relational wholeness is almost beyond our capacity to imagine. It would take superhuman power, to resurrect all the parties and assemble them in the same world. To arrange the logistics of a very long relational rebuilding process. To provide incredible educational guidance, coaching, tough love, tender shoulders to cry on.
Do you see this vision in the Bible? I do, and I’m excited to see that Rob Bell does. Let’s have a dialog.