Forgiveness is sometimes confused with reconciliation. When I forgive someone then that means I must also be reconciled with that person. And there is truth in that statement, but perhaps not the truth I first envisioned.
Reconciliation is a word rooted in the Bible. Reconciliation means to cease the hostility and animosity between two people or parties. Paul uses it particularly to describe how Jesus has restored the broken relationship between God and humanity through his death on the cross. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Jesus also used the term to describe how as Christians we are to be reconciled one to another whenever we have grievances or conflict with one another. “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:22-23).
Now the problem for me with reconciliation is that I have romanticized it and added an additional layer. Whereas the Bible speaks of ending the conflict and restoring clear, healthy relationship boundaries, I added a new layer. I added the layer of becoming bosom buddies that agree on all things. I romanticized it into a tight bond of friendship created or renewed. I thought in black and white categories, “you are either enemies or friends.” Reconciliation might mean friendship or it might mean going separate, peaceful ways.
An example of this is seen in Genesis 13. Abraham and his nephew Lot have traveled together to Bethel and both have extensive flocks and herds. Conflict had arisen between the herders of Abraham’s livestock and the herders of Lot’s livestock. Abraham proposed a reconciliation.
Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9).
Separation keeps the peace for Abraham and Lot.
Paul and Barnabas separated during their second missionary journey when they disagreed on whether to restore John Mark as one of their traveling companions (Acts 15:36-41). Though the text does not say they are reconciled, neither does it say that they remained hostile towards one another. God’s ministry continued even as they separated.
Reconciliation in a relationship does not always mean a new friendship restored. It may mean that the hostility ceases between the two parties as they establish healthy new boundaries of civility and respect.
How do you understand reconciliation?
Lord Jesus, guide me as an ambassador of reconciliation.