What is the little act of reconciliation God is calling you to do today?
For over 20 years I’ve taught a graduate course on the theology of forgiveness and reconciliation. Against a truncated gospel that makes Christ’s salvation nothing more than a “get-out-of-hell free” card for the individual, I’ve steadfastly insisted that a truly biblical theology of reconciliation is ultimately cosmic in scope.
As Paul unflinchingly declares, God is reconciling the world (cosmos!) to himself in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). We are called to believe this in faith, notwithstanding the chaos, sin and rebellion we see in our world. We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
As we become attuned to the cosmic extent of God’s concern, we see how biblical reconciliation is in essence the Good News that anticipates divine healing of relationships between people groups, between churches and denominations, between nations and countries, and even between humanity and the groaning world itself which we inhabit.
The breadth and depth of the concept of cosmic reconciliation is enough to make me feel a little theologically giddy. It’s how I feel when I’m out in my backyard at night, viewing galaxies and nebulae in my pastime as an amateur astronomer. Here I am, a speck in the universe with a front row seat to the glories of God’s heavens!
And when it comes to cosmic reconciliation, here I am, given not only a front row seat, but a place on God’s team as He works out the “big reconciliation” of the whole cosmos to himself for His glory and honour.
My theological giddiness, however, is sometimes deflated when I reflect on how my teaching and writing tends to veer back to applications of forgiveness and reconciliation at the local level of interpersonal relationships, even though I know biblical reconciliation is ultimately about God’s global concern. Sometimes I’ve lamented this, and even been self-critical about this, perceiving a primary focus on the interpersonal to be a sign of my Western individualism.
Where we feel the need most deeply
But I’ve also learned that our perceived need for reconciliation is most deeply felt where most of our day to day lives are lived. As tragic as international conflict, clashes between people groups, genocide and environmental degradation are, and as much as we need to pray and strategize toward seeing these things made right, a good number of us (if not most) are probably dealing with interpersonal conflict in our lives right now.
Not surprisingly, that’s why when I speak of reconciliation to any audience, most questions turn quickly to troubleshooting relationships closest to them.
If at times we have neglected the corporate and cosmic dimensions of God’s reconciling work, we can also sometimes emphasize cosmic reconciliation to the neglect of the interpersonal. Yes, it is right and proper to proclaim the cosmic and corporate gospel of God’s reconciling the world and the nations to himself in Jesus. But it is mere theological rhetoric to say God is interested in cosmic reconciliation while practically avoiding the conflict with people closest to us.
It’s a little like focusing all our energies in demanding that city council enact more environmentally friendly policies while pretending we aren’t addicted to consumer plastics.
In saying this, I’d hate to be misrepresented as now pushing the interpersonal/cosmic pendulum back in favour of a focus merely to an interpersonal approach to reconciliation. In fact, I reject the premise that if individuals work out their interpersonal relational woes that we can expect that structural and systemic brokenness will consequently be healed.
Such is not the case. Systemic and structural injustice and harm can far outlast even healed interpersonal relationships. The healing of interpersonal relationships, even cumulatively, doesn’t automatically make systemic injustices disappear.
Consequently, followers of Jesus need to attend to both the interpersonal and systemic structures of human relationships, and we must speak into both dimensions as ambassadors of God’s reconciling work.
Let's be honest
But let’s be honest: Sometimes it’s easier to make grand declarations about race reconciliation, world peace or systemic justice than it is to make real efforts to mend fences, friendships and familial ties with those closest to us.
In that regard, it is theologically ironic that in our desire to call one another to be ambassadors of God’s cosmic reconciling work we can paradoxically and unintentionally incriminate ourselves as witnesses against the very message we are seeking to declare.
And that’s what we do when we wantonly avoid, often at all costs, working through the hard, painful, awful, tearful, long, processes of reconciling with our closest neighbours, family members and brothers and sisters in Christ.
In other words, it is possible to be intellectually committed to world peace, racial and national reconciliation, and environmental stewardship while having hard hearts which prevent us from making things right with the person we sleep with, the child we’ve raised, the co-worker we labour with, the congregant we share a pew (or Zoom screen) with, and the neighbour we share a fence with.
Here we need to reflect on what the Apostle Paul says: “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
That divine instruction is a tremendous challenge and comfort. A challenge because it means I, an individual with my own set of interpersonal relationships, have a role to play. A comfort because it clearly implies that the whole work of God’s cosmic reconciliation does not hang in the balance on my efforts as an individual.
Participating in God's work
“As far as it depends on you” means there are always things, even little things, we can do in the here and now to participate in God’s work of reconciliation, even if we never see the ultimate ways God uses those efforts. God’s ambassadors will never be unemployed on this side of the coming kingdom of God.
Whether a kind word, a helping hand, a shared testimony of our experience with Christ, a word of apology, a retraction of a hurtful word, or even a simple “I’m sorry” – all these are the little things we can do, regardless if we see the ultimate results of healed relationships and new people coming to faith to Christ.
The challenge is: What is the little thing God calls you to do today? The little act of reconciliation that depends on you to do it? How we respond to those questions may uncomfortably reveal the depth of our ultimate commitments to be ambassadors of reconciliation.
David Guretzki is executive vice-president and resident theologian at The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Photo of galaxy by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash. This blog series is produced in collaboration with the Peace & Reconciliation Network, an initiative of the World Evangelical Alliance. Read all the posts at faithtoday.ca/reconciling.