The Necessity of Reconciliation
As I continue working my way through Jon Coutts' A Shared Mercy, the relationship of forgiveness and reconciliation must be addressed. How are these concepts similar? How are they different? And how does the Christian understanding of unmerited forgiveness play into the role of reconicliation?
At the risk of over-simplification, which I am prone to do in an effort to convince you of purchasing this fine book, reconciliation must be viewed as a necessary outcome of forgiveness. Forgiveness seen through the work of Christ must always remain unmerited. Reconciliation entails repentance — the first breath of forgiveness — by the offender (a horribly paraphrased quote that I cannot now find). Perhaps a better enumeration is that repentance and reconciliation must remain a necessarily desired outcome of forgiveness,
"It is crucial to note that Christian love, fully understood, hopes to be other-receiving and reciprocal. In fact it is to the detriment of agape if it's telos in koinonia is ignored or extracted … This is a common shortcoming in accounts of 'unconditional' love and forgiveness, about which Barth is not silent. For him it is important to note that love has a christologically grounded telos of reciprocity." (78)
Just as God in Christ forgave us, so also we forgive. But God did not love and forgive in order for the amnesty to just cease apart from reconciliation. Rather the opposite, God forgave in Christ that the ministry of reconciliation might be performed (2 Cor 5:16-21). Further stated, God forgave and loved in Christ that we might love Him. God's efforts in forgiveness come with the innate desire for reciprocated love on our part. It is love and forgiveness that is not self-centered or self-justified. It always seeking the restoration of the other.
The application of this in the life of the Christian is fundamentally simple — forgiveness is performed as obedience unto God, but more importantly, as a testimony of our reconciliation to Him. This means that in receiving God's grace we deliver grace. In perceiving that we are underserving our first action is to forgive others to testify to their forgiven state before God. Just as we have been forgiven and reconciled, so also we desire to forgive in order to make known that reconciliation — not as conduits but signposts. This removes many selfish desires for forgiveness. We are not to look out in self-interest when we perform forgiveness of our brothers and sisters. In fact, private forgiveness amounts to little more that private self-justification,
"Curiously, when Aaron Lazare compares the inordinate attention given to forgiveness rather than apology in recent decades he proposes the explanation that forgiveness is simply easier to manage alone. Apology runs the risk of correction, whereas forgiveness can be done quietly. Or so it is commonly supposed. Contrary to popular opinion, CS Lewis rightly clarified that 'excusing' a wrong is tantamount to declaring 'there is nothing to forgive' and thus rendering it 'almost the opposite' of forgiveness." (103)
As Coutts quotes Barth,
"'We are all in process of dying from this office of judge which we have arrogated to ourselves,' he wrote, and this is seen in our hastiness to excuse others as much as to 'pronounce ourselves innocent' out of turn." (103)
When Christians focus on reconciliation, they must look outside of themselves to the active work of Christ. The example found in Jesus Christ removes the judgment of self-justification and false, self-gratifying forgiveness.