RECONCILIATION AND REPENTANCE - YEAR 2009
January 11, 2009
"People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes."
One of the things that is hard for a nation or a society to do is to come to grips with the evils it has done. It tries to make excuses, saying 'it was the best choice we had at the time' or 'we didn't know better', or 'we did what we were told', or 'that was our ancestors, not us'. The Bible says that there's a tie-in between what we know and what we are responsible for (for instance, Hebrews 10:26), and this is true of whatever groups, cliques, neighbourhoods, ethnicities, classes, and races we are in, no less than for each of us as a person. There is also a tie-in between what we know that we are responsible to know, and what we are responsible for; deliberate (or even benign) ignorance is no excuse. Historically, it is always been very easy for us to plead ignorance, but very hard to really get to believe it ourselves, because the truth is out there and some will see it, eventually toppling the house of cards that backs its evils.
When the powers in a society willfully and unjustly harm people, the Holy Spirit is disarmed from working through those powers, since the Spirit is not one to use force to take control. The Spirit can often still be at work anyway, through believers from among the victims of the injustice. Those victims are, after all, the ones who need the binding of wounds and the caring and the feeding and the teaching, the ones who need the support of a powerful God.
But it does not do for a Christian to sit back and scream ruddy murder. That does nothing to transform things or to make them better. The Spirit equips each believing Christian with gifts and skills, and opens doors of opportunity for using those gifts and skills in witness and service to other people. I believe that the New Testament holds within it the key to rebuilding the societies we live in. But it would not be found by developing full-scale social ideologies (which fail, and in any case will turn into socio-political idols). It will be found by looking at the example of Christ, the words of the Prophets, and the letters of Paul.
When I look at all the conflicts in this world, open and sub-surface, I think of Christ. Christ had a way of turning the tables on the world -- and I do not just mean at the Temple. Christ stressed love, honesty, justice, diligence, active caring for others, and reconciliation. Christ made it clear that the relationship with one's neighbours was the key sign of the health of one's relationship with God (see especially Matthew 5:21-24). Our societies need Christ's kind of reconciliation more than ever. Paul was even able to speak of Christians having a ministry of reconciliation. He set that ministry into the context of what Christ did in bringing us back together with God; thus, reaching people with the gospel message is the most important aspect of this ministry of reconciliation. Yet, the other part of a reconciliation ministry is that Christ liberates us all to live in solidarity with God and each other. I think a vision of reconciliation is the most important gift that Christian believers can give to the world and the political systems right now.
Indeed, the ultimate reconciliation is already under way, that between God and God's entire fallen creation. Unlike in the responsibility chain above, God (the one who did NOT commit the sin or ruin the relationship) takes on the full role of the responsible One, and has brought it to the point of forming a new relationship. As usual, God did it, we did not. If God waited around for us to do it, it would never happen, for we are irresponsible. That is what got us into this bind to begin with.
"Every act of forgiveness involves at least three elements:
- We rediscover the humanity of the person who has wronged us, seeing that individual as a human being, not just as the one who offended us;
- We surrender our right and desire to get even or punish the person;
- We revise our feelings toward the individual and are open to a new relationship built on mutual respect.
"Seeing the person differently allows our feelings to change."
---- Lewis Smedes
"Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future."
---- Paul Boese
I pray that this teaching message has blessed you.