The Glory in Reconciliation

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

We had reached an impasse. My corporate team had analyzed performance trends and was revising our insurance pricing structure in one of our states, a joint effort we pursued in conjunction with the office managers responsible for daily operations in this region. Opposing opinions led to fomenting frustrations, and though I knew we would reach an agreement, I reported our stalled status to my manager, who offered this helpful piece of advice. “When negotiating, don’t approach the matter as though across the table from an adversary, but from the same side of the table as though confronting shoulder-to-shoulder a common enemy.” We were, after all, teammates facing the same outside competition and sharing the same internal goals.

Self-interest blinds us to the greater good; we are “lured and enticed by [our] own desire”1 and lose sight of God’s will and ways. How beautiful, instead, when we peer beyond our worldly skirmishes and behold our sovereign God actually pursuing his kingdom purposes through us, undeterred by our pettiness. Joseph’s identity now revealed to his brothers who had badly mistreated him, he sought not divisive retribution, but the shared understanding of a higher plan. “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance,”2 he said. Joseph realized that, in His sovereignty, God had turned sibling infighting toward their own good and His own glory, for in Egypt this entire family found not only immediate relief from devastating famine, but also an incubator of sorts in which they and their offspring would grow into a great nation under the protection of a world power. Israel would emerge from Egypt 400 years later as foretold, “a community of peoples”3 to possess the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And through this lineage the Son of God would enter into human history to save people from all nations and reconcile us to God.

God is glorified in unity. Though we were “alienated from God and … enemies in [our] minds because of [our] evil behavior,” God has “reconciled [us] by Christ’s physical body through death to present [us] holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”4 This is God’s desire for us; it was Jesus’s prayer for us: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”5 We go, then, as one reconciled people—“Christ’s ambassadors”6—carrying this living, breathing message: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them… Be reconciled to God.”7

Father, as in Christ you have united us to yourself and each other, send us as ambassadors with the proclamation of forgiveness, reconciliation, life and love in His name. Amen.

1 James 1:14 ESV
2 Genesis 45:7 NIV
3 Genesis 48:4 NIV
4 Colossians 1:21, 22 NIV
5 John 17:22, 23 NIV
6 2 Corinthians 5:20 NIV
7 2 Corinthians 5:19, 20 NIV

From Confession to Unification

Peggy and I were touring the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland, an opportunity which, given the long-entrenched strife between Protestants and Catholics there, would have seemed improbable but for the “Good Friday Agreement” signed a little more than a decade prior to our visit. We viewed the dry dock where the Titanic was built—“She was alright when she left here,” the locals remind us—and as we drove along beside a section of the city’s “peace wall,” someone in our group asked, “What’s on the other side of that wall?” It was a tourist question, for sure, and though our driver maintained composure, there was a distinct tone of incredulity in his one-word response. “Catholics!” he exclaimed. We stifled our smiles before returning our thoughts to the sobering matter of peace by separation—a step, albeit, toward unity.

Reconciliation takes guts, for the real battle lies within, where fear yet cowers within a fortress of pride. Seeing his brothers for the first time in over 20 years, Joseph could have dismissed from his presence these he’d purposed to forget; instead, he skillfully led them on the more difficult journey toward a more glorious destination—forgiveness and oneness. He tested his brothers by recreating scenarios similar to those in which they’d once failed him: the opportunity to abandon a brother1, favoritism toward the youngest2, and the declaration of intent to enslave Benjamin.3 Implored Judah in response, “If my father, whose life is closely bound up with [Benjamin’s] life, sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die… Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.”4 This sacrificial act in humility was, for Judah and the others, a tacit confession of their past wrongs. All eyes turned to the Egyptian ruler.

“I am Joseph! Is my father still living?”5 he cried, no longer able to control himself. Before his speechless brothers, Joseph “wept so loudly that all the Egyptians [in his household] heard him.”6 And as his sobs purged Joseph of his pain, he released his brothers from their guilt. “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”7 “He kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.”8 Theirs was no longer the mere absence of conflict, but the mature peace of reconciliation.

The apostle John wrote, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”9 Reconciliation with each other is to God as important as our reconciliation with Him, for in Christ—who is our peace10—there is no separation.

Father, guide me to reconciliation with those I have hurt and those who have hurt me. This is your will. Amen.

1 Genesis 42:15-20
2 Genesis 43:34
3 Genesis 44:17
4 Genesis 44:30-34 NIV
5 Genesis 45:3 NIV
6 Genesis 45:2 NIV
7 Genesis 45:5 NIV
8 Genesis 45:15 NIV
9 1 John 4:20 NIV
10 Ephesians 2:14 NIV

The Admission in Suppression

Early in his college career, our son Matthew initiated a pattern of calling Peggy and me every Sunday afternoon, catching up with each of us for a half hour or so before going his merry way. This was a welcome development coming from one who, in his high school years, communicated chiefly in monosyllabic grunts at the dinner table! So great did these regular weekend conversations feel to this parent, that I began to call my mother each week, as well, a Friday appointment we kept—this weekly gift of touch—for over 10 years until she passed away.

Have you noticed Joseph never called home? Despite all the abuses he suffered, Joseph rose to second-in-command over Egypt, so how easy it would have been for one in his position to send a note to Dad, saying, “all is well” or “stop by and see me sometime.” How smugly gratifying it might have been to send a portrait-hieroglyph to his brothers, wryly signed, “in command and thinking of you.” No, he never called home, but then why would he? The past was to him something to be left behind and forgotten. He named his first son, Manasseh (forget), saying, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household,”1 and his second, Ephraim (twice fruitful), saying, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”2 Suppression—in his case, forgetting without forgiving—was Joseph’s way of moving forward.

While Joseph carried the pain of yesterday’s wrongs, his brothers bore the burden of their unresolved guilt. In trouble before the high-ranking Egyptian official, their long-muted consciences found voice among themselves, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”3 The inevitable blame-shifting came from Reuben: “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen!”4 (Not helpful, Reuben.)

Whether of pain or of guilt, suppression is unhealthy and overwhelming—we are not built to bear them. Too is it misleading, for our ongoing attempts to bury our past betray our inability to resolve it by our own means. Paul urges us instead to “call home” and resolve wrongs God’s way: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”5 Forgiveness that leads to reconciliation, this is the truthful, liberating way of Christ, and He calls us to it.

Father, forgiveness can be difficult for me, for I am prideful and fearful by nature, yet I deeply desire this, your liberating way. Grace me with the gratitude, love and strength to do so. Amen.

1 Genesis 41:51 NIV
2 Genesis 41:52 NIV
3 Genesis 42:21 NIV
4 Genesis 42:22 NIV
5 Colossians 3:13 NIV