Anyone familiar with physics know that physicists have a way of explaining how big things move, like us, or the planets, that is called Newtonian physics. And they have a way of explaining how the things we can’t see move, like atoms, that is quantum physics. The Holy Grail of Physics is to find a unified theory. Something that reconciles and holds together how our planets revolve around the sun and how the atoms hold together in our bodies.
The Bible gives us a unified theory of creation. And it suggests that all of the universe, the planets, the stars, our atoms, our nations, our families, our minds, bodies, and spirits, are held together not by an impersonal force but by a personal God, and his name is Jesus Christ. The image of the invisible God, the one who rules over all of creation, by whom all things were made and hold together, the head of the church, the firstborn from the dead, above all things, and through him we are reconciled to Christ, he has made peace, by the blood he shed on the cross.
In a very real way the Bible says that the meaning of life is not a formula, or a mission statement. Before God we know God’s purpose for our lives we must realize that God has a person for our lives. And his name is Jesus Christ. The Bible says that the meaning of life is Jesus. And because that is true there is good news today. And the good news is this.
Because Christ holds all things together he can bring us back together through reconciliation. The word for reconciliation in this passage means to bring or push to the same point or place. It is much like the image of the opposite ends of a magnet being pulled together. Or imagine that God is a cowboy in the middle of two feuding people. His lasso is grace, love and forgiveness. He lasso’s us with our bullish hearts and draws us together with cords of loving kindness.
The Bible shows us that reconciliation requires three things.
First, reconciliation requires forgiveness. It should be noted that there is a difference between forgiving someone and reconciling with someone. Just because you have forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to be in relationship with them. If someone has hurt you and violated your trust in a relationship you can and should forgive them. But even when you forgive them it may still be a really bad idea to enter back into a relationship with that person and you need to establish clear boundaries to protect yourself. God offers forgiveness for our sins in Christ Jesus but that doesn’t mean we are reconciled with God. We have to take God up on that offer by calling Jesus our Lord. Then the Bible promises that whether we feel like it or not we are new creations in Christ Jesus.
Some have argued that we should forgive out of self interest. It is often said that when you don’t forgive the only person you are hurting is yourself. Un forgiveness is a prison of our own design. Indeed, in Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells the story of a servant who was forgiven a great debt that he could not repay. And after he was forgiven this debt the servant went to someone who owed him a much smaller amount of money. The servant demanded that person pay. When that person could not pay the servant threw the debtor in prison. When the Master found out about this lack of mercy the Master threw the servant into prison to be tortured him till he paid. From this parable some have argued that our primary motivation for forgiveness should be self interest because not forgiving causes a lot of emotional torture. And I have found in life when I don’t forgive people it does affect my mental, emotional, and physical health. But I have found that just because I am being tortured by my un forgiveness doesn’t make me more forgiving, because I don’t feel the people who hurt me deserve forgiveness. And Jesus suggests that more is required to forgive than self interest when he says in this parable, “ So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you don’t forgive your brother from your heart.” (verses 35)
I don’t know about you, but when I love someone from the heart, it isn’t because of what they do for me, it is because I sincerely care about their well being. While the pain unforgiveness inflicts upon us is real, self interest is not the solution, genuine concern for the other person is. Paul suggests this in Colossians Chapter 3:12-13, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” The question becomes how then did the Lord forgive us? Did he do so out of self interest? Did he do so to make himself feel better? Or did he do so out of the depths of his heart, out of his great mercy, compassion, and kindness, out of a genuine concern for our salvation? He sent his son to die for us to reconcile us to himself. It cost God dearly. We could never repay him. Instead, he gives us His Son as a priceless gift. It seems to me that the strength to forgive doesn’t come from self interest it comes from gratitude. Gratitude that the very air we breathe, the sun by which we see, the blood that was shed to give us peace, was created through and for Jesus Christ. Unforgivenness is the prison thankfulness is the key to freedom.
Once we have forgiven from the heart we can consider reconciliation. Paul tells us that reconciliation is based on the solid hope of the Gospel. Thus if we are to reconcile with someone we need real hope and not false hope.
In Colossians Paul calls Jesus the firstborn from the dead. While we may disagree whether some passages of the Bible are to be taken as historical or metaphorical, Paul is pretty clear that believing that Christ actually walked out of the tomb, that God’s salvation is grounded in reality is important. Because Christ is Risen we have a solid hope that God will one day reconcile and redeem all of creation to himself. Paul tells us if Christ is not Risen, we are to be most pitied because our faith has no grounding in reality (1 Corinthians 15:17). The Bible does not teach that we should hope for the sake of hoping. The Bible teaches that we have a reason to hope because God is at work in the real world redeeming the world.
Likewise in our relationships, we have to ask are we believing in a real hope or a false hope. Do we wish to reconcile because we are afraid of being alone? Because we don’t feel worthy of love unless we are being loved by someone else? Or has the person shown not just a change of behavior but a change of heart? How do we know if a person has shown a change of heart, a change of character? I think time is always a good test. A little creek can carve a canon given time. While a person can maintain a change of behavior to satisfy appearances for a short time, it takes a conviction from the heart to change over a longer time. At the same time I think we should show kindness and not wait till the other person has done a complete 180. Though some of us have dramatic conversion experiences to Christ, I think if we reflect on our faith we will find that the Lord worked with us overtime, step by step. He shows us one rung of a ladder. And when we have taken hold of that and climbed a couple of feet he gives us another. In reconciling with another person often we give them a ladder with the bottom rung and the top rung and nothing in between. It is good to have high expectations for our relationships. Having low expectations and settling in love is often how we end up in bad relationships. But our love must be grounded in hope and reality. We believe that resurrection power is real because we have seen it at work in our own lives. So we must believe it can work in another’s life. But if we wish to reconcile we need to be merciful. Give the person you wish to reconcile with a rung of the ladder. If they respond well to it give them another. Do it slowly. Trust God to guide the pace. He is our Good Shepherd. He leads us even when we don’t know where we are going. We must also be open to a dramatic resurrection. But more often God works with us over time to bring or relationships back from the dead.
Finally, reconciliation requires sacrifice. Sacrifice requires two things
- Radical Empathy
Often we are experiencing conflict in a relationship with someone we love one of the first things we might hear in an argument is, “you just don’t understand me.” Perhaps this has been humanity’s cry to God since the Fall. “Yeah God, we know you are all powerful, and all knowing, and all those other fancy theological words, but you just don’t understand how terrible it is down here, and how hard it is to deal with temptation. You are up there in your ivory tower judging us so we are just going to keep doing what we are doing.”
But the Word became flesh and he dwelt among us and he was full of grace and truth (John 1:14) The book of Hebrews calls Jesus our High Priest who intercedes for us before God. The author tells us that in Jesus, “ we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in a time of need. “ A broken world said to its Father, you don’t understand me, our Abba, Father’s response was to send Jesus to die on a cross, to shed his blood, to proclaim peace. Our God is not some ivory tower theologian. Our God has some skin in the game.
Likewise in our relationships, we must make every effort to understand the perspective of the other, to walk a mile in their shoes. We should set boundaries for bad behavior but not be surprised by bad behavior. If we find ourselves being surprised by the sins of others or saying to ourselves, “I can’t believe you believe this, or I can’t believe that person did that,” then we haven’t forgiven as Christ has forgiven us. For Jesus sees the reality of our hearts and he loves us the same. He is not surprised by our sin. He had compassion for us in our sin and made peace for us by the blood he shed on the cross.
Finally, I think prayer is essential for the work of reconciliation. We see this in the Garden of Gesthsename, where Jesus prayed all night before he went to the cross, to accomplish the work of reconciliation. Often we think of this as Jesus struggling to know God’s Will in his human spirit. But I think it is clear that Jesus knew what the Will of God was, that he would die for the sins of the world, he was just seeking the strength to carry it out. I have found as I have prayed that God often does not tell me what to do directly, though sometimes he does, but I gain the strength to do God’s Will as I have discerned it through the teachings of scripture and my reasoning that I ask to be conformed to the image of Christ. Often we have trouble doing God’s Will because we are not willing to do it if it goes against our desires. Before we know the particulars of God’s plan for us we must be willing to be as Christ was, who desired to do His Father’s Will above all else. Prayer gives us the strength to do that. As the book of Hebrews said Jesus offered up prayers and supplications that he would be delivered from death and he was heard because of his reverence (Hebrews 5:7). So let us pray that the one who holds all things together may give us the strength to reach out and be drawn together. Let us pray that we would be reconciled.