For what is a perennial issue in life, that just so happens to be covered beautifully by the Bible, the issues of forgiveness and reconciliation in relationships are quite literally tired and worn.
Are there many people not affected by relationships that have gone wrong? Are there many people not inhibited by ongoing strained relations? Are there not already a huge percentage of people battling to forgive family members and best friends who have done the dirty? Are there not already so many people, us included, who have already hurt others beyond repair? And, finally, are there many people who don’t yet feel avoidant for some as they enter even a shopping mall? Just how much do broken relationships account for stress in our lives? And why is it that some broken relationships can never be reconciled at least to the point of peace to let bygones be bygones?
These are the perennial issues that are left unresolved in most of our lives.
Conflict is so commonplace in life that it doesn’t matter who you talk to; a school student, an aged care facility resident, a worker, people within the church, even those who have been close for years. And the function of that closeness can polarise betrayal and despair even more. The deeper our relationship with a person, the more pain we experience when the relationship is torn apart by conflict. And it is probably only these kinds of relationships where, if both parties are polarised, and there is a core wounding, reconciliation can seem a bridge too far. There needs to be humility in one or both to even have a ‘fighting’ chance at restoration.
As you read this article you will most certainly be thinking of a particular relationship that has gone pear-shaped. One you either regret or are still annoyed about, or perhaps examples of both. And these have, as you reflect, consumed so much of your time and mental and emotional energy, let alone theirs.
Conflict costs; it costs an incredible amount; it costs far more than we often realise.
But what price are we prepared to pay for peace?
So how are we to wrestle within the confines of conflict, biblically speaking? This is assuming, of course, that what the Bible says is important for us, because we are espoused followers of Jesus.
I cannot go past the PeaceWise principles that I have been taught and that I now have the privilege to teach. They work in most situations where there is willingness in one or both parties to attempt reconciliation.
Where it is questionable that these principles apply is in the situation of abuse. In situations of abuse it is doubtful that anything restorative could work until the person engaging in the abuse has done a significant work of repentance.
So, the first question to be asked in terms of biblical forgiveness and reconciliation in relationships is around equity of relationship; is there an equal yoking to work with? Sometimes there just isn’t, and wisdom dictates that reconciliation means, in such cases, that it should be accepted as it is. This, though it feels woeful, is the best result where the relationship has become so toxic that it will remain unworkable. Sometimes this is the case, and mature people accept it. They accept and move on.
PeaceWise teaches the Ken Sande material from The Peacemaker. In Matthew 5:9 Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ Those interested in biblical forgiveness and reconciliation in relationships will see themselves as peacemakers. Turned the other way, if we consider ourselves a child of God, we will see we’re called to be peacemakers.
Peacemakers engage in what is termed the 4 G’s:
- They do what is required to glorify God, which often means maintaining a loving, merciful, and forgiving attitude. They understand that the nature of faith in terms of relationships is first about the vertical relationship with God and secondarily about our horizontal relationships with others. Anytime we get our vertical relationship right, the horizontal relationship falls into place as a matter of course. We must keep coming back to the vertical – to our mission to glorify God in all we do.
- Instead of blaming others, or resisting correction, they are adept at getting the log out of their own eye. They take responsibility for their own sin and tend not to focus on what others did wrong. And they stay in this healthy place of self-examination and a self-determination toward reconciliation.
- Instead of pretending that conflict doesn’t exist, they either overlook offences minor enough to forgive without confrontation, or they gently confront the person they are in conflict with the aim of gently restoring them.
- And there is courage in a fourth step, that seeks to go and be reconciled to the point that we don’t accept compromise because it feels too hard to confront or we don’t accept when a relationship is offered the chance of dying. To go and be reconciled is to be committed to the relationship for its fuller restoration. To go and be reconciled is to believe that all relationships can experience reconciliation, as far as it depends on us.
When we face up to our failures and confess them, we open-up our guilt-ridden heart, acknowledge the power of hurt, and recognise our need of forgiveness. In doing this, we resist trying to handle our own guilt; by ignoring it, rationalising it, or just plain running away from it.
The seeking of forgiveness is the relational wisdom that cares for reconciliation with the other.
The giving of forgiveness, as it is received, is a miraculous gift of grace that ought never to be taken for granted.
Guilt prevents us from experiencing forgiveness and it can even prevent us from being free to forgive. Guilt tends to suck our lives dry, leaving us feeling empty and worthless. Guilt is a great cancer of relational effectiveness, even as we lack the relationship with ourselves that would be a springboard of confidence into a viable relationship with others.
The person who can forgive themselves, reconciling their guilt, is the person who can forgive others. This person is rich in a spiritual way within a material world.