Making room for reconciliation


By The Rev. Jeremy Myers

Two things seem to dominate social interaction and discourse in our world today.

People seem to be perpetually offended or angry, and in many cases, both. It doesn’t take much in our current cultural climate to light a fire in someone, and it’s amazing how quickly that spark is fanned into a raging inferno that spreads to others.

So pervasive is the risk of offering offense that even as I type these words, I worry someone will be offended that I am writing about the prevalence and popularity of being offended. And many who aren’t offended will be angry at those who are. Thus, in a brief introductory paragraph, I have painted a picture of the polarization present in our modern world.

Personally, I am neither offended nor angry (at this moment). I am exhausted. I have written before about the power of words, and I believe it is crucial that we carefully consider what we say and do before we say or do it. At the same time, none of us are perfect, and we are going to occasionally do and say things that are offensive and anger inducing to others.

In the book of James, we’re told, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

There are times when the emotion of the moment takes hold of us and we speak or act out of anger, hurt or even excitement and we intentionally offend another. There are other times, however, when we simply don’t know or fail to consider what we are saying, what will be heard or what it means.

And in our current cultural climate, one careless word, one poorly processed opinion or one emotional outburst could result in massive consequences and/or unmitigated disaster.

Again, we should do our best to be conscientious and to control our words, but it is exhausting worrying about when I may intentionally or unintentionally cross the proverbial line and what the fallout will be for my offense or that of family or friends.

I absolutely believe there should be consequences for our words and actions. I don’t, however, believe every social misstep should be an endgame moment. We need to make space for grace. Rather than walking a person off of the cliff when they offend or anger us, we should instead seek repentance and reconciliation.

This is particularly true for those who claim to be followers of Christ. Paul notes in light of God’s grace and forgiveness in our own lives, we are to offer that same reconciliation to others. I would argue it is extremely confusing and not a little hypocritical when we offer the world reconciliation to our holy God but refuse to offer reconciliation with us.

Again, I am a firm believer in accountability and consequences, but I’m also a believer in grace, forgiveness and providing the opportunity to make amends. Our ultimate goal shouldn’t be retribution for the offense but the restoration of right relationship with the offender, if at all possible.

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus provided us with a pattern to follow to achieve these ends. Step one is a face-to-face, one-on-one conversation between you and the person who has offended. I wonder how many of our issues of offense and anger could be mitigated by gracious conversation with the person.

If Step 1 doesn’t work, Step 2 is to approach the person with two or three others who will try to mediate. Their job is to hear the issue and attempt to provide neutral and somewhat impartial hearings. Perhaps there’s something we’ve missed and our offense and anger is not justified and (gasp) we are in the wrong.

Finally, if steps 1 and 2 fail, you take it to a higher authority and seek justice. We often like to start with taking our offense and anger to the court of public appeal. Unfortunately, this does little more than multiply our offendedness and increase anger. It also usually results in permanent and possibly irreparable damage to reputations and relationships.

Rather than sharing and spreading our hurt, would it not be better if we attempted to create avenues for healing?

I find it interesting that just after laying out these steps, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. To put it another way, how many times should we seek to reconcile with those who offend or anger us. Peter makes a gracious and biblically correct offer to forgive seven times. Jesus increases it exponentially saying to multiply that seven by 77.

His point is not an actual number but that we should forgive as many times as it takes. What would happen if this was the standard we set for ourselves? How would our cultural climate change if rather than allowing our offense and anger to ferment, we attempted to pave paths for reconciliation and restoration?

If we are ever to overcome the division that defines our time, we will need to find the strength to step out of our offendedness and anger and offer grace to those who have offended. We need to make room for reconciliation.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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