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Friday, 30 November 2018

Forgiveness and Reconciliation are not the same

The Problem
Some have argued that if you forgive someone in your heart, you should naturally be reconciled to them in person.

But that is not necessarily the case. If the offender does not recognise their sinful behaviour or confess it or apologise for it, there can be no meaningful reconciliation  - though the offended must always forgive in their heart.

Forgiveness is an inward attitude of mind and heart that views the person who has offended them - as hard as this might be - as though they had not offended. In other words, there is no longer any anger in the heart towards that person. Forgiveness - true forgiveness - is only possible for a believer because of God's forgiveness. The logic of all Christian forgiveness is this: "If God has forgiven me the greater offences I have committed against him, I must find it in my heart to forgive the far lesser offences someone has committed against me." Meditating on Christ's forgiveness and praying the line of the Lord's prayer regularly really does enable a believer to work towards real heart forgiveness. "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us."

There can be no meaningful reconciliation, however, if the offender is totally unwilling to admit or own up to their offences. Why? Because every time the offended and offender meet, there is an elephant of offence in the room, undealt with. So you can pretend to be reconciled, but in reality you are not - and can't be.

The Joseph Example
The story of Joseph is a moving example of human forgiveness motivated and empowered by God. Joseph's brothers sin against him in a terrible way. First, they are filled with internal envy for his gifts and role (we must in part blame Joseph's father for favouritism). Second, they are callous when they threw him down a well while they were eating a meal. Third, they knowingly sold him to slave trader who "bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons." Fourthly, they lied about him to their father. 
If ever there were men who sinned against a brother - here it was. 

And if there was ever a group of men who did not own up to their sin, it was this crew.

But here is the interesting and important point. Joseph made it hard for his brothers before he reconciled with them. While I do not doubt that he forgave them in the heart, there was no reconciliation until the brothers owned up to their sinful behaviour.

What did Joseph do to get them to see their sin?
  • He put them in prison for three days
  • He made them send their youngest brother to Egypt - an act they knew their father would find nigh on impossible to accept
  • He put a royal silver cup in one of their sacks  making it look like they were thieves!
  • He spoke harshly to them (42:30) and treated them as spies
What was the purpose of this gracious-harsh behaviour? Was Joseph being vindictive? Not one bit! He was trying to get them to see their wicked behaviour - and it worked:

"They said to one another, 'Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen, that's why this distress has come upon us'." (42:21)

It was only when the brothers could see their wickedness that Joseph was - or could be -  reconciled to them.

So reconciliation and forgiveness are two very different things which must never be confused. We are always called to forgive, but reconciliation is impossible without acknowledgement of wrongdoing on the part of the offender(s). 

If someone sins against you, always forgive them in your heart. How can you not? Then run through  the process of Matthew 18 if you can - sometimes it is impossible. Reconciliation is always desirable, but not always possible.  See if you can get them to see their sin. If they can't or refuse to see their sin, then do not feel guilty if you cannot reconcile.

 As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 

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