We hear the word “reconciliation” tossed around a fair amount these days.
I think that’s a good thing. I’m one of those people who believes that the books collected in the Bible lay the foundations for God’s grand plan of cosmic reconciliation.
But, often, we want reconciliation for cheap. We want convenient reconciliation. We want the kind of reconciliation that’s brought about by time.
I think that’s a bad thing.
Before I go any further, it’s probably helpful for me to clarify what I mean by “reconciliation.” When I speak of reconciliation, I’m referring to the restoration of relationship and harmony. When I speak of cosmic reconciliation, I’m talking about all of creation being restored into proper relationship with the Creator.
Relationships are damaged by sin. Sin is all that we do that falls short of God’s standard. God’s standard is right relationship with Godself, and with God’s creation. Each of the ten commandments describes an action or attitude that tarnishes our relationship with God or with our neighbor (and, therefore, with God). God doesn’t hate sin for the sake of hating sin. God hates sin because it destroys relationships and wreaks havoc in creation.
The majority of the time I hear about reconciliation today pertains to “racial reconciliation.” I’ve had White brothers and sisters in Christ ask me how we can go about achieving reconciliation, and how they can go about getting more Black and Brown brothers and sisters in their churches and communities. Very seldom do these conversations entertain the possibility of White people joining Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, or any other sort of churches. And that’s telling.
Reconciliation is not the same as assimilation.
Harmony is not the same as homogeneity.
Unity is not the same as uniformity.
When we claim to want reconciliation, what we’re often saying is that we don’t want to remember. We want to forgive and forget without affecting any real change or providing any sort of restitution. And that, in effect, is its own kind of sin.
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that a husband has been unfaithful to his wife. He has vacillated between verbally abusive and apathetic. He has depended on her to keep their house clean and their meals prepared on top of maintaining the full time job he’s expected her to keep. He has depended on her fulfilling his every expectation, while also setting up (without her consultation) an expectation for himself that is exceedingly easy to meet. This is is not a happy marriage.
After years of this inequitable and unpleasant situation, their marriage is on its last legs. The wife has had it up to *here* with this arrangement. She’s on the way out the door.
The husband apologizes. He expects that she should accept this apology and resume an arrangement in which he is the one who determines all of the rules of engagement. An arrangement in which he is not at fault until the camels back has been broken. An arrangement in which his wife is at fault whenever he decides she is.
The husband expects that this reconciliation – this reunion, this harmony – should be easily attainable.
But everything that God tells us about reconciliation suggests the exact opposite.
God’s plan for reconciliation required a humbling. God showed his desire for reconciliation by putting divinity on pause and being born as human. God hungered as we do. God mourned as we do. God felt anger, like us. God celebrated, like us. And we got to see all of that in Jesus.
God’s plan for reconciliation required service. I’m always amazed that the very Son of God, sent to judge the world and separate the wheat from the chaff, spent so much time meeting the needs of people, even as (or before!) he dealt with their sin. It’s almost as though God recognized the difficulty of restoring relationships when so many needs went unmet.
God’s plan for reconciliation required loving sacrifice. It’s no coincidence that the Apostle John structured his gospel such that his assertion that God loved the world so much that He gave His son towards the beginning of his account. Without such a sacrifice, there could be no reconciliation.
What amazes me the most about all of this is that God wasn’t even the one who broke the relationship in the first place.
I think about that a lot.
If I’ve damaged my own relationships with fellow image bearers, If I’ve messed up my communion with God through my own jacked up thoughts and actions…. why should I expect reconciliation to be any easier?
When I said yes to Jesus, I took on reconciliation as my own mission. Reconciliation is central to the gospel. Having my sins forgiven wasn’t for the sake of me feeling better. It was to restore relationships. Being born again isn’t for the sake of another birthday party. It’s so that we can live in a new family, born through the agency of God’s Holy Spirit.
I thank God for being Great enough to complete a work we’re not even capable of starting on our own.
Now the task is to live in that which God has already set up for us. We’ve been reconciled to God. It’s high time we recognized that when we deal with each other. Because we cannot be reconciled to God without being reconciled to everything and everyone that God has called good.