Beyond Charades: Steps Towards True Reconciliation

I believe with ever fiber in me that Christians are commanded to live in deep community. Most everyone will say “amen” until they run into the natural byproduct of living in deep community—equally deep sin. Sin has always been community’s natural enemy. Just think on Genesis 3 for a moment and you will track with me. Therefore, if we are going to be a gospel-centered community we must develop biblical ways to deal with the aftermath of fellow Christians sinning against each other. This is often caledl restoration or reconciliation. I have been meaning to write something on the steps towards reconciliation but have been dragging my feet. It was through the gentle prodding of my friend Mark McClure that I felt moved to put this together. Before starting, my thinking is in this area has been greatly refined in thanks to pastor Doug Wilson’s must-read book Reforming Marriage.

I will start by saying that true reconciliation is an extremely rare bird. I think the easiest way for me to explain this is through a hypothetical situation. Our scenario plays out in the Doe Family’s living room. John has just raced home from a hard day’s work to watch a basketball game. A smiley Jane walks out to the living room just as her “focused” husband sinks into viewing position on their loveseat.

Jane: Hey you! How are you?

John: Hey, what’s up? (Just barely glancing at her)

Jane: So, did you know that our cell phone plan just went up. I called today to pay it because we were past due and they said it was going to be $80 extra every month starting this month.

John: Uh huh.

Jane: They said there will be an interruption in service if we don’t pay it before tomorrow.

John: Yeah.

Jane: Soooo…Should I just pay it or do you want to talk to them first?

John: Sure.

Jane: John, are you listening to me? I need to know what you want me to do.

John: Sweetie, I just got home from a crazy day at the office! I’ve been looking forward to this game all day long. And, here you are nagging me? Come on! Can’t I escape your constant chatter for a couple minutes? I’ll take care of it later. Why do you have to be such a dripping faucet?

Jane stomps off disgusted at John’s attitude. He continues to watch the game but during half-time he starts to feel guilty. He realizes that he needs to apologize to Jane. John lifts off the couch and walks into the bedroom to reconcile with his wife.

John: Jane, I’m really sorry. Work really stressed me out today. I was just worn out and a needed a few minutes to get my bearings. I didn’t really mean it when I said you were a nag. I’ll call the phone company right now.

Jane: Its okay. I know you didn’t mean it. Let’s just put it behind us and make the most of what is left of the evening.

There has not been any reconciliation here whatsoever. John did not confess or repent of his sin. Moreover, Jane did not forgive him of his sin. Say, what? Pay careful attention to what is and is not being said.

Let us start our examination with our scenario’s antagonist, John. He eventually does realize that he needs to apologize but that is about all he gets right. Pastor Doug Wilson writes:

“Once we realize that confession is necessary, we still must learn how to confess and apologize. Tragically, may who need to apologize to their spouses for numerous offenses do not do anything more than hint around the edges.” pg. 70

This is exactly the problem with John. He says he is sorry but for what? All he says is that he was stressed out and tired. This is really just an excuse for his sin. He is saying that he only acted that way because he was under extenuating circumstances. In other words, John never really takes responsibility for having a wicked and rude attitude towards his wife. The real John would never act that way towards his better half.

The natural question would be why then does Jane forgive her husband after such fraudulent apology? Is it because Jane is just an amazingly forgiving and loving wife? I do not think so. Once again, I think Pastor Wilson puts his finger on what is actually happening here. He explains:

“The other person often goes along with the charade because he does not know how to extend true forgiveness any more than the one who sinned knows how to apologize. Forgiveness presupposes genuine wrongdoing. The difficulty is that we have a hard time forgiving genuine wrongdoing. This why people apologize as though the “real me” was not the culprit…This is relatively easy to forgive because the other person didn’t mean it. But sin can only be forgiven when the person did mean it—it is then sin, and can be forgiven.” pg. 71

Ah, do you see what is actually going on? Jane never really forgives her husband. All she does is excuse and minimalize her husband’s sin. She says it is okay that he treated her as he did base upon him not really meaning it. However, this is not true. First, John did mean it. There is only one John. He was not possessed by some demon. The devil did not make him do it. It was he selfish nature that is to be blamed. Second, sin is never okay. God does not think it was okay. Matter of fact, it is “so not okay” that God poured his wrath out unto Jesus because of John’s sin. Jane is going along with this façade because she does not want to believe that her husband is that evil. This is actually most likely a reflection of what she believes about her own nature. Moreover, she does not want to have to depend on the cross as her only empowering means of forgiveness. She is quite fine with just sweeping all of this under the rug. This “type” of reconciliation solves nothing. It will, in time, lead to an even larger problem as resentment builds up under the surface.

What should have happened? I submit the following as an example of true reconciliation:

John: Jane, I’m really sorry. I sinned against you and God. My attitude was completely unwarranted and despicable. I called you a nag because the game was more important to me than you. I need your forgiveness. Will you please forgive me?

Jane: Yes, I forgive you.

That is true reconciliation. It is not easy but God will empower us to do so as we humble ourselves before the cross of Christ.

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