My college roommate just got engaged, and I was genuinely excited for him. This is quite a normal response for such a situation, but it has been a crazy two year journey to this point. His fiancé is also my ex-girlfriend. To complicate things further, they started dating right after my friends and I had gotten an apartment together. Making matters worse, they didn’t even talk to me about it. However, almost a year and a half later, everything is all good. When I step back and analyze this very strange situation, I can clearly see the hand of God repairing broken hearts and relationships, bringing conviction for sin, and empowering his people to follow his example by forgiving and reconciling.
My aim is to show through my personal story, as well as the grand narrative of Scripture, that God is a God who forgives us, reconciles us, and dwells with us, empowering us to do the same.
In the beginning, God created all things. Prior to creation, there was only God and yet there was also a community. I know this sounds confusing, (and it is!), but as God is Trinity (tri-unity), he is the one God that exists eternally as three distinct, yet perfectly unified, persons. In coequal majesty, honor, and power, God exists as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This Godhead loves to love. In perfect unison, each person of the Trinity loves the others in loving service (1 John 4:8). It is this diverse yet unified loving community that expresses who God is.
God created all things, not because he needed anything to fulfill him from outside, but because there was such a surplus of love within him. Creation is an overflow of God’s personal love, and we, his humans, were created to participate in the loving relationships that take place between Father, Son, and Spirit when God made us in his image (Genesis 1:26).
This doesn’t mean we physically look like God, but like a painting reflects the emotions, creativity, and thoughts of the artist, we “image” our Creator. Our emotions, our desires–particularly to love one another and be in harmonious community with each other–is a result of our being made in God’s image. Thus, in the story of Scripture, our first parents (Adam & Eve) were made to be in relationship with each other, and also with their Creator. In the garden, they found themselves within the loving embrace of the triune God. That’s why when we are reconciled to God as believers in Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells us, and invites us to indwell him.
It was in the Garden of Eden, where the first humans Adam and Eve, broke their special unified relationship with our creator God. The trickle-down effect of their choice to sin has affected us all. Graciously, it was in that same garden that God also began his forgiveness story to bring us back into relationship with him.
Yet, we need more than forgiveness to repair a relationship, we need reconciliation. God offers us both. The words “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” are very similar, but there is a fundamental difference. Forgiveness is often seen primarily in a legal sense. If one was to break the law in some way or another, they would be expected to pay a fine, serve jail time, or make reparations somehow. Sometimes, the offended party may choose not to press charges, in some sense, this is what is usually meant by “forgiven.” However, even though the guilty are declared innocent, they are still seen through the lens of their wrong action. The thing that has changed is simply that the offended party won’t do something negative against the guilty. On the other hand, reconciliation is when the offended party does something positive for the guilty. It is not just about maintaining the status quo, or rebalancing the scales, although it is not less than that. No, reconciliation is about restoring the broken relationship and advancing it to an even greater level. While forgiveness usually focuses on a static law, reconciliation focuses on dynamic relationships that bend and twist and break, but are made right along the way and ultimately in the end. Put simply, Forgiveness is not holding a grudge against someone; Reconciliation is actually being their friend. However, this is getting ahead of the story. Adam and Eve are broken in the garden, in need of reconciliation. Tangible redemption is found wanting in their banishment from the garden, but they are promised that redemption is coming (Genesis 3:15). Here in the garden, we are introduced to our own need of reconciliation, and we ourselves are offered a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon of Scripture’s story.
My relationship with my ex-girlfriend was short but intense. I won’t relate to you the whole story, but in essence, here is what happened: We dated, we broke up. I hurt her. I felt hurt by her. I lost a lot of friends. That whole season was really awkward, and it really sucked. Things started to get better; it felt like we were beginning to be reconciled, then she started dating my roommate. More sucky-ness; more awkwardness. It felt like everything started over. There was lots of miscommunication, awkward situations, avoidance, and fear. I hope in some way you can sense the level of pain and hurt caused by sin. I also hope you can recognize the massive need for not just forgiveness, but for reconciliation.
Seeing his precious creation in trouble, alienated from him by their choice, God acted. He did not sit idly by, but he entered into history and acted. One can see him act in the Old Testament by calling a people to himself (Genesis 12), saving that people from slavery, instructing them about himself and how they are to live, bringing them to their own land, and even providing them a ruler (Exodus—2 Samuel). Even when his people were forgetting his instruction, God sent prophets to instruct them even further. However, his people continued to not listen. God would do something dramatic to ensure his people’s reconciliation to himself.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV).
This explains that God spoke in the past through various mediums, and now he speaks definitively through Jesus, who is the exact imprint of the Father. Elsewhere in Scripture it speaks of Jesus as the one who is at the Father’s side revealing him (John 1:18), the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), and the one who is to be exalted above every name (Philippians 2:9-11). Yet, these scriptures also explain that this Jesus did not come to us as a stunning figure, wrapped in glowing white robes with an ethereal halo encircling him. Instead, he was born to a lowly woman in Bethlehem and placed in a dirty feeding trough. It was God that became flesh, a particularly nasty word for some in the first century (John 1:14). He took the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of humankind—in humility (Philippians 2:7-8). It is Jesus that is able to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus is both 100% divine and 100% human. Although that may be tough to wrap our heads around, Scripture explains why this is a good and necessary thing: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:19-22 ESV). Here we see that because Jesus is the perfect representative of both God and Man, he alone is able to reconcile God to Man and Man to God. It was through his death, burial, and resurrection, that Jesus reconciled creation to Creator. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, God wiped clean the debt record that stood against us, in other words, he forgave us. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, God also restored the broken relationship by destroying the evil that had caused the brokenness. In other words, in Jesus, God was also reconciling us to himself according to his promise in the garden.
The story now continues with us. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 NASB). As new creations, those who have been forgiven by and reconciled to Jesus, we now have the task of being reconciled to each other. As Christians, we are not just called to forgive others in our hearts but keep them at an arm’s length away. No, we are called to be of one heart and one mind (Acts 4:32) with our brothers and sisters—we are called to be reconciled.
By God’s grace, today I have pretty awesome relationships with both my roommate and my ex-girlfriend. It took a lot of being humbled by God. We had to have some very difficult conversations, but it was through these conversations that the Holy Spirit began to reconcile us. Sure, it is a little weird sometimes, but that is part of the journey.
If you think hard enough, I am sure you can think of a relationship that has been broken for some time now. Perhaps it was their fault, maybe your fault, or even a little of both. Regardless, have you forgiven them? Are you reconciled? If not, here are a few observations that might help you on that journey to a restored relationship.
1. Actually forgive them
So often we harbor bitterness towards people. This is because we are still mad at them and haven’t really forgiven them. Pray that the Holy Spirit would allow you to actually forgive them in your heart, and not just by way of your mouth.
2. Talk to them
It is so easy to just believe that everything is alright because you have forgiven them. Talking to them and opening up that line of communication is essential to reconciliation. Talking with both my roommate and my ex-girlfriend cleared up a lot of miscommunication and false assumptions I had. It may be tough, depending on the type of hurt you have experienced, but the Holy Spirit will give you strength.
3. Reconciliation is a Journey
While forgiveness is static, reconciliation is dynamic. It takes time, sometimes a whole lifetime. My journey to reconciliation began almost two and half years ago, and I am still on it. What is important to note is that reconciliation is not something you have to force. You are not necessarily going to be best friends with the person who betrayed you, so you don’t have to pretend to. Your relationships might also look different after reconciliation.
4. Reconciliation will be fully accomplished when Jesus returns
There are some situations where reconciliation is just not feasible, for instance, relationships in which one member has passed away. More extreme situations, such as when rape, abuse, or even murder has occurred, may be impossible to reconcile in this lifetime.
It may not be wise for a person who has been severely abused to confront their abuser alone. It may take a third party; perhaps a professional counselor or a pastor. And remember, depending upon the depths of the wounds, it may take many years for healing to come. Nevertheless, when Jesus comes again, he will make all things new. There is no relationship too broken or damaged to be fixed by our God.