(This is the sixth entry of a series on forgiveness. Reconciliation.)
The story of the twin brothers, Esau and Jacob, is one of deception, theft, rage, revenge, and hatred. Jacob tricked his brother out of his birthright. He later lied to their father Isaac and stole the blessing Esau was to receive. “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 28:41).Jacob fled to another country. Twenty years passed. Jacob returned home.
As Jacob and his family neared his home he feared his brother Esau. After twenty years he imagined his brother’s hatred of him to be burning in Esau’s heart. When the two brothers meet Jacob approached Esau with an act of contrition bowing to the ground seven times. “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept” (Genesis 33:4). Esau had forgiven Jacob before Jacob had an opportunity to repent. Now Jacob came with a penitent heart. He had sent gifts ahead to Esau, goats, camels, cows, bulls, donkeys, a gift of his repentance. Esau told Jacob, “‘I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.’ ‘No, please!’ said Jacob, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably” (Genesis 33:9-10). To be forgiven is like seeing the face of God in the one who forgives you. What a wonderful thought! How important forgiveness is to our relationship with God and with each other.
Jealous of their younger brother Joseph, the sons of Jacob sold Joseph into slavery. He was taken to Egypt by his buyers and sold there. Joseph’s brothers lied to their father leading him to believe Joseph was dead. Jacob determined to grieve for the remainder of his life. The grief of their father did not move the brothers. The lie continued. Joseph, torn from his father, sold in slavery, falsely accused and imprisoned, experiences God’s presence with him. Through God’s providence Pharaoh appointed Joseph over his kingdom. As the story goes in Genesis 37, 39-50, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt for food during a famine. They did not recognize their brother. In time, after a series of encounters, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. It is obvious he has forgiven them.“And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him” (Genesis 45:15). Joseph arranged for his father, his brothers, and their families to move to Egypt. When their father died, the brothers feared for their lives at the hands of Joseph. They finally plead for forgiveness. Fearing Joseph refusing to forgive them they send him a message claiming it was the dying wish of their father. They plead, “‘Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.’ When their message came to him, Joseph wept” (Genesis 50:17).
“His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said. But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid, I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:18-21).
Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, are two examples of reconciliation. The relationship damaged, broken, by sin is restored. Peace is brought to the relationship. Acceptance and fellowship are restored. I have stated in the previous post reconciliation is the ideal outcome of forgiveness. There can be forgiveness without repentance. There cannot be reconciliation without repentance.
When someone wrongs you he brings two obstacles between you and him. First, there is a sense of violation and betrayal which you feel. A trust is broken. Anger, bitterness, and resentment build in your heart. Forgiveness enables you to let go of these. Second, there is a rift in the relationship. A wall of enmity is built that only the offender can remove by his repentance. Repentance is genuine sorrow, a genuine change in behavior, and a genuine effort at restitution if needed and possible.1
Reconciliation is not always possible. Sometimes the hurt is simply too deep, the offense too traumatic. Sometimes to restore the relationship is to suffer the blows repeatedly. The offender cares less about the grace of forgiveness extended to him. He has no desire for reconciliation. There are times when the offender is no longer in your life and never will be. For example consider David and Saul. Saul displayed his jealousy and hatred seeking David’s life. He expressed sorrow, only again to seek David’s life. David’s actions revealed forgiveness. Reconciliation was never possible as Saul’s jealousy continued until he died.2
The goal of the death of Jesus on the cross is forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation with God: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Reconciliation between people: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace…For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:14-18).3
Reconciliation is the ideal outcome of forgiveness. What is necessary for reconciliation to happen, for the conditions needed for peace and a restored relationship is determined by a number of factors. One factor is the intimacy of the relationship. Another factor is the extent of the betrayal, of the wrong, of the injury. How serious was the offense? The two most crucial factors in reconciliation are forgiveness and repentance. Sometimes reconciliation simply is not possible. There are times when reconciliation is limited; the relationship can never be the same but peace is possible.
Divorce results in a broken relationship rarely reconciled to the point of restoring the marriage. There are those couples who with time are able to forgive, letting go of the hate and anger. A limited reconciliation occurs and they are able to live in peace. They are able to be together without anger when the children are married or there is a death in the extended family, and in the sharing of the children and grandchildren. It is difficult. Moments of tension and anger erupt. For the sake of the children, if no other reason, they work through these times to maintain a peace between the ex-husband and ex-wife.
She left home at seventeen. Never did she want to have her father in her life. He was a minister whose secret life was hidden while she was a child. Her father sexually abused her for a number of years. This minister father convinced his little daughter that a minister was a man of God and could do not wrong. He taught her what he did to her was not wrong. By age seventeen she knew the truth and left home.
When she was thirty-two she was able to forgive him. She let go of her hate. She wanted him to be her father again, but she knew she could never be the daughter sitting in her father’s lap. What she lost, she never had it, and it could never be. Now she sees him for what he is, a pitifully weak man, now old. Trusting him is never going to be possible. There will be strains and unwanted memories. She has reached the point in her forgiveness and in reconciling with her father that she can now take care of this aged, feeble man. This daughter can now be there when her father cannot take care of himself.4
Forgiveness honestly faces what happened. Limited reconciliation is an honesty about what happened. It is an honesty about what is happening, about who the victim and the offender are now.5
The person who is guilty of the wrong placed the obstacles in the way of the relationship. He has the responsibility to remove the obstacle of the hurt by his repentance.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).(The relationship between two Christians impacts their relationship with God.)
Everett Worthington suggests how to come to the one you hurt with a good confession.6
“C=Confess without excuse”–understand what you did, take full responsibility.
“O=Offer an apology”–genuine sorrow for what you did, be specific showing you know what you did and are sorry for that specific act.
“N=Note the other’s pain”–understand it, accept it, express understanding and acceptance of the hurt of the person you offended.
“F=Forever value”–express the value of the person hurt, show respect, love, and that the hurt you caused was not deserved.
“E=Equalize”–offer restitution, offer to do whatever will help overcome the hurt and loss.
“S=Say ‘never again’”–make it clear your intention is to never do the hurtful behavior again, continue to patiently build trust.
“S=Seek forgiveness”–admit you did wrong, admit the person you hurt was justified in feeling hurt and anger; be genuinely sorrowful for what you did; though you are undeserving, humbly ask for forgiveness.
Lewis Smedes writes,
“It takes one person to forgive. It takes two to be reunited.
Forgiving happens inside the wounded person. Reunion happens in a relationship between people.
We can forgive a person who never says he is sorry. We cannot be truly reunited unless he is honestly sorry.
We can forgive even if we do not trust the person who wronged us once not to wrong us again. Reunion can happen only if we can trust the person who wronged us once not to wrong us again.
Forgiving has no strings attached. Reunion has several strings attached.”7
Christ came and preached peace (Ephesians 2:17). As God’s people and children, Christians learn from Christ and are equipped by Christ to forgive, to repent, to overcome the hostility and enmity that separate them and to live in peace with one another, united as one in Christ.
____________ 1Lewis B. Smedes. The Art of Forgiving, When You Need to Forgive and Don’t Know How (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996), 26. 21 Samuel 18-2 Samuel 1 3The apostle Paul is speaking of Christ bringing together Jew and Gentile, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and the words of the prophets. The principle of peace and reconciliation in Christ holds for all the hostilities between people. In Christ, through his death on the cross, through the gift of his Spirit, all who come to God in Jesus are united together as one. Paul connects reconciliation with God to reconciliation with one another in Jesus Christ. Having access to God through Christ and the one Spirit God’s people must especially seek reconciliation with one another. In Ephesians 4-5 much of what Paul teaches is important to Christians having the attitudes, the character, and the behavior which lead to reconciliation. 4Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive & Forget, Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve (New York: HarperOne, 1984, 1996), 36. 5Ibid., 35-37. 6Everett L. Worthington, Jr. Forgiving and Reconciling, Bridges to Wholeness and Hope(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003 [Originally published as Five Steps to Forgiveness, 2001]), 204-7. 7Smedes. 27.