Reconciliation is a buzz word in our day. As we reflect on history and the errors of those who came before us, we feel an obligation to build the bridges they burned, whether unintentionally or with violent purpose. The list of injuries is long, and the task is large.
One place reconciliation is strangely missing is the local church. We seem to forget how it is essential to the Gospel’s message. Each one of us is eternally estranged from God because of sin within us. Yet Jesus was born to sacrifice Himself so the penalty of our sin would be paid, and we would have the opportunity to be reconciled to God.
In places where there are multiple choices for a place to worship, people often leave one congregation in favor of another, not so much because God has called them to connect and serve in that new church home, but because of problems with people from the old one. If only we could find a way to reconcile.
We might find it easier if we learned to talk about what has happened with a different set of words. How we define our situation will determine what course to take, if we leave room for any at all. When it comes to reconciling our relationships, we have to be careful to keep open the bridges that bind us together.
When something “happens” to us, we jump to one of two definitions for the way we feel. Some might say they have been “hurt”, which coincides hurt feelings. Others may describe it by saying they were “wronged.” Though your thesaurus might lump them together as being similar, at their core, being “hurt” or being “wronged” are very different.
None of us are from the planet Krypton, so everyone has been hurt physically in some way. You skinned your knee learning to ride your bike. Adjusting your chair at the dinner table, you slammed your funny bone into the corner. Bee stings, paper cuts, coffee tables in the dark during the middle of the night. All of these hurt us.
When we are hurt physically, we believe we will heal. There is some medication or procedure that can put us back together again. A scab may form for a while, and it may even turn to a scar later. Still, the pain is temporary. It can be healed.
It’s hard to find an instance in our physical lives when we are wronged. Maybe cancer is a good example. It’s something no one deserves and few would wish on their worst enemy. It ravishes, destroys, and leaves nothing behind when it has finished consuming its host. There is no cure.
There is no place where we bump into other people where the bump won’t hurt once in a while. Home, work, church. No one is perfect. Sin continues to stain our lives. Even within the most powerful of relationships there will be times when people cause each other pain and tribulation.
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Our natural inclinations vary on our personality. You might turn away from that person and ignore for the rest of time. Others turn the tables, getting even and making sure the other party feels their pain, or maybe something worse. Whether you throw or break something, scream at the top of your lungs or remain deathly silent, God’s plan is for reconciliation.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24, NIV)
Have We Burned the Bridge?
If we say that we are hurt, we open the door for healing. The pain is temporary. The whole is more important than the point of suffering. It’s better to work things out with treatment than to cut off what has been injured, or in the case of relational strife, the one who caused the injury. We recognize it isn’t always someone’s fault, any more than it is the coffee table’s fault for being in a dark room, or a bee for seeking to protect itself.
But to say we are wronged puts reconciliation far out of reach. It implies there was a right, some other way of being treated that we deserved or earned. When we are wronged it automatically places full responsibility on the other party. it demands restitution before forgiveness is even considered, and in some cases it just isn’t possible.
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The first step to reconciliation is having an open heart. God has given us the gift of the church to help us in this life. Scripture says we are one and we belong to each other (Romans 12:5). We are supposed to make every effort to protect the bonds of unity (Ephesians 4:3). Jesus said the world would recognize us as His followers by our love for one another (John 13:35).
Have you bumped into someone recently and your life has felt its harmful impact? If you were in a car accident you would go to the hospital. When your flu symptoms last too long you go and get a prescription. What will you do when your relationship needs to be mended?
It may sound like a game of words, but the heart of the matter is our choice to be open or closed to reconciliation. It doesn’t always feel like it, but the relationships God has brought us to are worth the pain to resolve the breakdowns and differences between us.
Our choice is ultimately about wholeness. It says keeping the Body of Christ together is more important than anything I desire for myself. We act in faith that God really does want us to be unified in Jesus. Reconciliation is the result of looking beyond our current hurts to the future joys of being together.
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