Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reconciling in the Real World

(This photo comes from Photographer Greg Kemp.  He is a great artist right here in our church!  Check him out at

Since the sermon Sunday, I have been hearing about a lot of lively discussion in Life Groups. One good way to ignite conversation is to deal with a touchy topic.  I'm glad to know that the sermon got us thinking!

I wanted to take this opportunity to answer a few of the questions that I keep hearing, but couldn't address in the limited time Sunday.  

  1. What is the difference between "forgiveness" and "reconciliation"?  Forgiveness has to do with the condition of your heart.  Mark 11:25 indicates that you can forgive a person without going to them.  It means not counting their offense against them or wiping their slate clean.  Reconciliation is interactive.  Mathew 5:24 indicates we have to "go" reconcile.  It is when you go to them to ask for forgiveness or when you let them know they are forgiven.  It is the outward communication of the condition of your heart.  
  2. Does reconciling mean that the relationship goes back to the way it was?  No! In fact, the relationship has to change.  Chances are, the relationship was not healthy before the hurt.  Whether you are closer after the reconciliation or not, the relationship must be different. Reconciliation means the slate is clear and everyone knows.  No one is holding grudges.  It doesn't mean forcing a close relationship.  In some cases (abuse especially) the danger of returning to a toxic relationship may require limiting the relationship in order to avoid temptation.  However, the purpose must be avoiding temptation, not grudge-holding.  It all comes back to motives.  A good test of motives is to ask yourself: "Do I want good things for this person?"  If not, you may be holding a grudge.  
  3. What about abuse? I don't want to sound uncaring, but 1 John 4:20 still applies.  I cannot pretend that forgiveness is easy when abuse is involved, but it is possible and it is necessary.  I can't say I know what it is like to be abused, but Christ does.  If we refuse to forgive based on the severity of the offense, its like saying that God's grace isn't big enough to cover it.  I have known of some who keep citing how bad the hurt is.  At some point, we have to forgive, otherwise our relationship with God and our healing will be stunted.  Forgiveness here is a long and painful process, but it is what God has called us to do, and He is there to carry us through.  In these circumstances, I highly recommend counseling.  Feel free to contact me for a referral if this is where you are.  Forgiveness and healing is possible.  It just isn't easy.  
  4. Does forgive mean forget?  I don't know that we can completely "forget" our hurts.  In fact, usually the deeper the hurt, the harder it is to forget.  However, we can choose not to remember it.  In Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17 God chooses to "not remember" our sin.  This doesn't mean that all-knowing God forgets it. It means he doesn't bring it up.  The same word for "remember" is used in Genesis 9:14-15 to refer to God remembering a covenant.  It wasn't that he forgets the covenant and suddenly remembers.  It has to do with His intentional act of remembering.  We can do the same thing.  When we choose to remember or intentionally bring up (in our minds or in conversation) the hurt, we aren't really forgiving.  That's a problem.  (By the way, some translations say God casts our sins into a "sea of forgetfulness"--Micah 7:19.  God is all-knowing.  He doesn't "forget".  The phrase is actually to be translated "depths of the sea" as we see in the ESV and NASB).  Not remembering means not ever intentionally bringing it up.  However, forgiveness is a process.  The deeper we are hurt, the more our memory is triggered by the things we associate with the hurt.  It's like a broken bone.  We may forget that it is still healing until we bump it and feel the pain again.  We can forgive, but when the hurt shows up (different than us bringing it up), we have to forgive and put it away again.  This is a process that could happen in a moment or again and again over years.  Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting.  
There are three very important things to remember in reconciliation.  First, it is possible.  Second, it is a process.  This is why counselling is so valuable.  When in doubt, go to counseling.  I've been.  It just helps as you walk through the forgiving/healing process.  Third, reconciliation doesn't mean abandoning all relational boundaries.  I can recommend a classic book here.  If you are working through how to interact with a person you have forgiven and don't know how to maintain the relationship in a healthy way, I recommend Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  You can order it below.

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