by James A. Wilson
The fifth chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Church states – in the first of five verses – we are a new creation when we clothe ourselves in Christ. It continues – contrary to the bromide we are the drivers of reconciliation between persons or peoples – we were first reconciled to God by the sacrifice of Jesus the Son. It finishes by calling us to live as ambassadors of that same reconciliation that generates life itself.
Once we embrace and understand this passage (see my first book, Living as Ambassadors of Relationships, for a fuller understanding) it is a short stroll to understanding the process of reconciliation. It entails three steps and in no particular order. First we need to express our view of reality without pulling punches or resorting to insult. Second is listening to the opposing view, expecting neither pussy-footing nor verbal assault. Third – and most important – we need to permit reframing of the conversation by a third party who cares as passionately as we do while maintaining authentic objectivity; the referee needs to have no dog in the fight other than justice paired with unrelenting love. The catch is there is no Being in the universe other than the God who creates and redeems us with His own blood who perfectly meets the criteria.
Applying this strategy is as difficult as we might imagine it. It requires engagement couched in courageous assertiveness and simultaneous compassionate vulnerability. This is why I claim only the Living God can mediate the feuds that wrack us personally and corporately; only He has mastered the juxtaposition. Yet we are enabled to grow these qualities by association when we submit ourselves to Him in the process. Perhaps that is why He makes such a big deal of ambassadorship for reconciliation in the passage above; this is about becoming fundamentally human.
Lip service won’t cut it. I well remember when this same God called me to deliver a message to a gathering of indigenous people from all over the world some years ago. The message was that He meant to call forth a worldwide awakening from within these indigenous communities in anticipation of the end times; the catch was that He expected me – a white representative of the immigrant peoples – to declare this could only happen when the indigenous peoples themselves repented of their own sins before expecting others to repent of theirs. My fear was of wounding and insulting people who had already been wounded and insulted for centuries by people who looked like me.
When push came to shove and I was unable to find anyone of an appropriate community to deliver the message – people to whom I spoke believed it of God but insisted it was entrusted to me and I had to declare it – I submitted to my calling and began with a declaration of my own repentance. I shared the word I had been given and challenged those present to act on it. The seven hundred or so of us gathered there in Kiruna, Sweden, spent the next four hours approaching representatives of groups our people – whomever they happened to be – had wronged and receiving their forgiveness. The peace of God descended on us in a massive cascade and many deep and permanent friendships were born that day.
The challenge was to each of us – and I have my own wrongs to either prosecute or submit to higher authority in my Lord – to choose between legitimate demands for justice and personal resurrection. Before the next gathering – this time in the Philippines – I found myself victimized in the theft of a sizable inheritance by two persons of the very indigenous peoples I had invited to join me in repentance back in Sweden. Called upon to share my personal testimony of redemption I included my struggle to forgive this and other wrongs I have endured; I was able to joyfully – albeit painfully – assure my listeners forgiveness is a process and God is happy with any who hang in there with Him and with each other in that process. The good fruit included more than forty people who approached me over the remaining days of the event to tell me they had been set free to forgive and be renewed in their lives as a result.
The most dramatic reconciliation incident of that gathering came on the last day of workshops. As an attendee in a workshop dedicated to reconciliation I witnessed a member of a hill tribe whose members – the ones who have not yet received Christ – still practice both cannibalism and headhunting asking forgiveness from members of a tribe on whom they continue to prey. The three of them made an awkward but public statement of forgiveness and reconciliation – at the request of the workshop leader – but without the requisite engagement that makes such a declaration a statement of truth. I was pretty sure we would not see any of them again during this conference.
To my surprise and wonder they turned up near the end of the last workshop session the next day; arm in arm they hung out together for the duration. It was obvious they had not settled for the pro forma gesture they had made from the platform the day before. The circles under their eyes demonstrated they had spent a long night wrestling with the difficult issues of reconciliation through engagement; their efforts were crowned with victory.
If these warring tribesmen can reconcile in the wake of their horrific history so can the rest of us. Erasure is neither possible nor desirable. Following this process – submitting to its Author – is the sole path to justice, redemption, and peace at the end of wherever that path may lead.
James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships, The Holy Spirit and the End Times, Kingdom in Pursuit, and his first novel, Generation – available at Bounty Books.