Understanding the Difference between Forgiveness and Reconciliation Could Change your Life.
“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Naturally, people don’t like to (and, frankly, don’t want to) forgive. We want to hold on to bitterness because we think, if I forgive the people who have hurt me, then I’m condoning their actions. I’m saying what they did is okay. I have to be close with them again. That is not true at all. God is the judge, and He will judge appropriately. Bitterness, lack of forgiveness, and grudges often harm the one holding on to them the most. However, when we forgive we essentially say, You can’t destroy me, end me or hinder me any longer, because my God heals. He is better than bitterness. It also shows the world that we truly understand how much God has forgiven us.
Plus, let’s be honest. Most of our unforgiveness and bitterness stem from some really silly and trivial situations. However, some stories involve true victims. In these types of stories, forgiveness can come only from God because they take a God-sized forgiveness. Although, forgiving someone is the hardest work we can do, we must absolutely do it, because not forgiving makes you toxic. And then you really have very little to offer your family, the world or your neighbors because your bitterness can spread to others, and no one wants it for themselves.
One of the most sobering verses in all of scripture has to be Matthew 6:14–15, where Jesus said, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This is one of those verses that you’ll never see on a Christian T-shirt, coffee mug, or desktop screen saver with roses in the background. The reason this is not a popular verse is that it digs deep into the uncomfortable areas of our lives and deals with some difficult actions on our part. It teaches us that if we’re going to be recipients of God’s grace, then we must give grace to others. Jesus gives the challenge that if we don’t forgive others, it may be proof that we’ve never truly received God’s forgiveness ourselves. Or, in a positively glorious implication, He is teaching us that the most practical way to show the world that we understand forgiveness in our own lives is by showing that we know how to forgive.
It’s very clear in scripture that we are commanded to forgive. However, what about reconciliation? Is it possible to forgive someone, and not reconcile with them? Is it possible to reconcile with someone, without forgiving them? Are forgiveness and reconciliation one in the same? Allow me to give you the short answers to those questions, and then I’ll elaborate a little more. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.It is possible to forgive someone, without reconciling with them, however, it is not possible to truly reconcile with someone without truly forgiving them.
Sometimes, the confusion over reconciliation and forgiveness can actually hinder us from forgiving someone. Forgiveness is always a must, and ideally, reconciliation should always be the goal. However, while forgiveness is always plausible, reconciliation is not always possible. Basically, reconciliation should always be the goal in healthy scenarios, but it’s not always going to be a reality because not every situation is healthy.
Let me explain why…
It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation, because forgiveness is between one person and God. It’s an act of faith, where that particular person is taking their heavy weight of bitterness and placing it at the feet of Jesus trusting Him to be perfect judge over the situation. This act of trusting God can take place in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from any contact with the offender. But, reconciliation is different, because it is focused on restoring broken relationships between two people. It takes two people apologizing, forgiving, compromising and changing. It’s going to take two people trusting in God, and asking Him to restore trust in them for one another. This takes a super-natural work of the Lord, because that trust was completely shattered. And, where trust is broken, restoration will have to be a process—sometimes, a very lengthy one.
In many cases, even if an offender confessed his or her wrongdoing to the one who is hurt and appealed for their forgiveness, the offended person could justifiably say, “I forgive you, but it might take some time for me to regain trust and restore our relationship.”
The greatest evidence of genuine forgiveness is trusting God to be in control of the situation, and allowing His grace and mercy flow through you to the other person. Forgiveness can be a moment, however, reconciliation that has to heal and restore a relationship is often a marathon. After all, isn’t this how God often interacts with us? Our forgiveness is immediate, but our fellowship with Him grows and matures over time.
Even when God forgives our sins, He does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions. Being forgiven, restored and trusted is an amazing experience, but it’s important for those who hurt others to understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process of rebuilding trust.
Lastly, there are other unique circumstances where forgiveness is possible, but reconciliation is not possible or even a good idea. Sometimes the healthiest thing for two people is distance. We’re commanded by scripture to forgive others, love others and be kind to others; however, nowhere in scripture are we commanded to be friends with everyone. Sometimes the best way to forgive someone else is to stay very far away, because they may be dangerous, harmful or even toxic.
Even when reconciliation is not a reality or possibility, forgiveness is still commanded.
Shane Pruitt is the author of 9 Common Lies Christians Believe: And Why God’s Truth is Infinitely Better. Shane has been in ministry for more than 17 years as a denominational leader, church planter, and traveling communicator. He holds a B.S. in biblical studies and a PhD in Christian counseling. Shane serves as Director of Evangelism for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. A popular blogger, Shane has written for Relevant, Christianity Today, the Christian Post, ChurchLeaders.com and other online journals. He and his wife, Kasi, live near Dallas, Texas, with their five children. For more information, visit shanepruitt.com.