Forgiveness & Reconciliation

I have a short temper, but one thing I do not do is hold grudges. I'm more likely to tell you exactly why I'm mad at you and then be over it. Obviously, if you do the same thing over and over it's going to affect our relationship, but even then I don't usually hang on to angry. Other people I know are still mad about the time in 1st grade when someone cut them in line. Many will never even verbalize their anger. Yet Christ gives us two pieces of information about dealing with conflict that apply to all of us, regardless of how we default in times of anger.

15Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.Matthew 18:15-17 KJV

23Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.Matthew 5:23-25 KJV

Last week, I woke up to a group chat message that I found highly offensive. I addressed the individual in what I thought was a calm manner, and they became defensive. It was a very short exchange, but in the end, the other person said they were "hurt" by what I said. This person did not care that they had hurt me and held no remorse for their part in the exchange, but per Christ's instructions the leaders of the church recommend that we "reconcile."

I'm Only Human

My first reaction was to become even angrier, to be honest. Imagine someone punches you, you respond by shoving them, and they respond by kicking you&mdahs;then they say you asaulted them and they're hurt. The flesh was like "Good! I hope you stay hurt." Unfortunately though, I'm at the point in my relationship with Christ where I know this isn't how to handle the situation. In responding to the message that originally caused offense, I sort of did Matthew 18:15—arguably because this was through text, the next conversation should probably still be one on one. Yet, because he has said that he is also hurt, I am also "at the alter [remembering] that my brother is angy with me." The two of us are doubly called to talk it out and attempt to be reconciled. The problem is, I'm not sorry for I said, and he's not sorry for what he said.

A Step of Humility

One of the hardest parts of forgiveness and reconciliation is admitting you are wrong. Whether we are wrong for what we said, how we said it, when we said it, who we said it to, or why said it, admitting that is hard. It's also hard to admit we blew something out of proportion or misjudged a person. In most situations we just want the other person to say "you were right and I was wrong." Meanwhile, they're thinking exactly the opposite. I've definitely grown in my ability to admit that I have overstepped a boundary, or gotten mad unnecessarily (PMS is real).

Unfortunately, the truth is, sometimes I think the person received exactly what they deserved. Maybe I didn't consciously say it to hurt the person, but even before I opened my mouth to speak, I decided what needed to be said was more important than hurt feelings. It is in those cases, such as the example we've been discussing, that I have no remorse for what happened and struggle the most with humility.

Questions to Ask Yourself

When i'm trying to bring myself into a state of humility, these are the questions I ask myself.

Was it necessary?

This question really should be asked on the front end of conversations, but if we're honest with ourselves, sometimes we say or do unnessary things. This is usually what gets us in trouble. When I answer this question truthfully, if the answer is no, it becomes easier to see the other person's point. This is essentially me admitting that overstepped a boundary. Even if what I said was true, it wasn't necessary and didn't benefit anyone.

Could I Have Handled It Better?

The answer to this question is almost always yes. It might take a day, or a month, or even years to able to answer it honestly, but the answer is almost always yes. I've often told people it's not what you said, but how you said it. The truth hurts sometimes, but that doesn't mean I should hurl it at you like a baseball. I have found that with delicate matters, every person reacts differently. As we get to know people, its important to remember who you're talking to. With some you may need to be more gentle. Many times we don't know that we've touched a nerve or we upset someone we don't know well. Stopping to think of alternative ways I could have handled a situation helps me to understand the person better, and sometime identify where things went wrong. This allows me to see from their perspective and is helpful in admitting my fault.

Was it the Right Time/Place?

We all know the meme "too soon." Sometimes it just isn't the right time to say something. Of course with somethings there is no right time, but at least there may be a right place. Things that may be ok to say between close friends or between family might not be ok to broadcast to your entire friend circle. Similiarly it could be one particular person that you said something in front of that irritates a person. Again, its one of those things we really should think about beforehand, but in the after effects, I find that acknowledging I embarassed someone or stole the spotlight, etc., is a crucial step in repentence.

Letting Go

It also takes humility to let things go. Pride is what makes us feel like someone owes us an apology or that we are deserving of something. It takes humility to say "I'm sorry" is enough. It takes even more humility to forgive without an "I'm sorry."

Repentance

During some of the rough conversations I had with members of my church in the past couple weeks, we talked alot about Christ's stance on forgiveness, but not alot about repentence. People often remind us that Christ died for our sins while we were still sinners as motiviation for forgiveness, but we aren't pardoned until we confess His name and repent. This is why humbling ourselves is so cruicial. We have to truly get to a place where we actually feel apologetic about what we have done and/or the pain we caused.

Reconcile

In my scenario, I feel like what I said was respectful, necessary, and done in the appropriate time/place. Am I sorry that the other person felt hurt in the process? Unfortunately the answer is no. A hit dog will holler. When we are confronted with out own biases, faults, and shortcommings, our reaction is often to be defensive and get offended. That's what I felt happened in the exchange. So how then do I go about reconciling with this person? When speaking with the leadership of the church about it, the person said reconciliation didn't mean apologizing. I'm not sure I agree with their assessment, especially since I've never had a conversation with this person otherwise.

What Does Reconcile Mean?

Reconciliation means "the restoration of friendly relations."[1] This implies that there was a friendly relationship in the begining. I find this point interesting because we often forget that when we talk about reconciliation in the context of Matthew 5 and Matthew 18, we're supposed to be talking about our brothers and sisters in Christ—those we actually have relationship with. You can not be restore friendly relations to someone you were simply neuteral about. Now, one could argue that in cases such as my own, reconciliation would mean to get back to that neutral.

Refusal of Reconciliation

We're not all on the same spiritual level. Some of us are moved by the Holy Spirit to reconcile, and some are not inclined to reconcile at all. Many (maybe even most) of us, are somewhere in between. Often I am aware that conversations should take place and I the desire to attempt reconciliation, but I may not be ready to budge. There will be times when people will refuse to listen or speak to you. Sometimes it will come to a stalemate.

Responsibility

I often ask God what our true responsibility is in reconciliation. Sometimes, conflict exists over the dumbest things (for a great example, see my podcast episode Misunderstandings). However, sometimes the conflict is legitimate. In Matthew 18, it even says that if after carrying the matter through propper channels the issue still exists, the person becomes as a stranger to you. It doesn't guarantee reconciliation. There are at least two points of contention I've been involved in where I feel as though I did the right thing—the example shared being one of them. In both cases the other person adamantly disagrees. At least one of them desires an admission of wrong doing and an apology, but you shouldn't apologize when you aren't apologetic. You cannot restore a friendly relationship if the person is waiting for you to apologize.

So I asked myself when is it ok to stand your ground, so to speak. When am I justified in not offering and apology? Am I ever justified to not accept an apology? (Colossians 3:13) Do we have to be "friendly" in the aftermath. Biblically, we don't ever see Christ back down from the Pharisees; He does not legitimize the fact that they feel threatened by His teachings or try to soothe their ego. Yet, in Luke 7 and Luke 14, Christ is also seen breaking bread with them. What does that mean for us?

Christ tells us to forgive our brothers and sisters 70*7 times. So, when a person approaches me for forgiveness, it's pretty obvious that I'm supposed to offer it. Being friendly with that person doesn't mean being naive though. For instance, if they stole money from me, apologize, and I forgive them, that doesn't mean I'm going to leave my wallet with you when I go to the bathroom. This, while difficult, is actually the easy side of reconciliation, because at the end of the day, we can only control our own actions. When the person is unresmoreful for their actions, we have to be able to let go of anger without an admission of wrongdoing. Similarly, when someone is angry at us, we can not force them to accept an apology and we cannot force them to see things our way. This is when things get complicated.

In situations of conflixt, my suggestion would be to first pray and surrender your heart to God. Let God humble you; His Spirit will tell you if you should be remorseful. Let God be the one to decide what you should say. If both people are truly in the Spirit, reconciliation will happen. If only one person is, it's hard to say what the outcome will be, but in these scenarios, I want to be the one that came in the Spirit so I can be blameless before God. In short, our responsibility is simply to try.

References

  1. "Reconciled". Merriam-Webster. visited June 13, 2020

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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