When a girl meets a young man she falls in love with, the ultimate relationship she dreams about, is marriage. It is a relationship in which a couple gives themself to each other in the fullest and most inti-mate way. No bond can compare to this relationship. It is beautiful, deep, natural, and life-enriching.
But in spite of God intentions—and many a girl’s romantic dream—the breakdown of marriages has become a way of life in many societies, and few families are untouched by the grief that it brings: hopes and dreams are shattered; sacred promises are broken, both leaving a trail of bitterness, disillusionment and heartache. At least the family courts still encourage a process of reconciliation before deciding that there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship.
Reconciliation has become a buzz word today. We use it when referring to our relationship with the aboriginal communities; we hear it when the talk turns to conditions in Ireland; and of course, the Gospel itself is called a ministry of reconciliation.
Reconciliation — what is it?
Most of us would agree that reconciliation has to do with two parties, who have been at odds with each other, coming together again. At least this much is commonly accepted. Where we probably part company is in the way we see this reconciliation brought about.
In the case of the Australian Aborigines, some believe that reconciliation can only be brought about if the Commonwealth Government apologises for the wrongs of the past, and pays restitution. In Ireland, where there is a long history of action and reaction, there seems to be a recognition that no party can win. The proposition is that the past needs to be put behind, and a compromise relationship be worked out for the future.
Neither of these 'solutions' match up with the Christian view of the Gospel. Reconciliation in the New Testament, is almost synonymous with the concept of 'atonement' in the Old Testament. In what sense? Atonement literally means 'at-one-ment'. The sacrifice of atonement in the Old Testament was God's way of removing the sin that caused the break in the relationship between human beings and Himself in the first place.
But, where do you begin with this reconciliation? The Bible tells us that it begins with God. This is the primary relationship for which we were created. The health of all other relationships flows from the quality of this relationship.
The wall needs to come down!
Although God is love, He cannot offer reconciliation by regarding 'bygones as bygones', giving us a 'second go' at the future. He cannot act this way because He is also just, and love cannot survive where there is no justice. What led to the break in the first place was a spirit of rebellion that was not prepared to recognise God as Creator and Lord. This spirit of rebellion needs to be removed. What kind of a world would it be, if oppression and injustice were sanctioned? An illustration of this can be seen in Nazi Germany where the leaders saw themselves above all law. The prospect of such a state is terrifying. Love could not possibly exist in such a world, for the whole idea of love includes actions of fairness and respect.
Nor does God demand that we make acts of restitution to Him in order to work our way into a right relationship with Him. Although He is not the one who caused the break in that relationship, He has taken all the necessary steps to remove the separation that existed between us and Himself. He has done this in a way that satisfies both His love and justice through Jesus Christ.
It is only when this barrier of sin and rebellion has gone, that we can experience a truly clean conscience. Most of us know how a wrong act against another person can lead to a barrier being raised between two people. There are feelings of embarrassment, shame or anger, as the case may be, leading to avoidance of each other. This is the response we saw in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they had disobeyed God. They hid from God when He came to visit them (Gen.3:8). They no longer looked with eagerness to His visits. They were too ashamed to meet Him. What's more, their relationship with each other suffered badly. Blame, recrimination, inequality and oppression became their commonplace experience. What they needed most was reconciliation with God, but they were no longer capable of understanding that, let alone initiating it.
A God-initiated contract
It isn't a coincidence that the Bible talks about God initiating a Covenant with His people in the Old Testament. The closest parallel to this concept is the marriage contract. What was needed was for the primary relationship to be restored, i.e. between human beings and God; and only God was able to achieve this.
In Exodus 19:4f, God said to His people, "I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself." In all their journeys and hardships He was there upholding them with His everlasting arms (Deut.33:27). He loved them deeply and drew them to Himself with loving-kindness (Jer.31:3). Despite their unfaithfulness and breaking Covenant with Him, His arms were stretched out to them again and again, longing for their love (Isa.65:2). That was never to come…!
Until…, God showed His incredible love by sending His one and only Son in search of them. No amount of wooing would bring them back to God. So, God continued His wooing from the cross of His own Son, Jesus Christ. Christ's love for sinful human beings took Him all the way to a cruel cross. The just One dying for the unjust. No other religion can speak of such love. In the cross God was reconciling an unfaithful, rebellious humanity to Himself.
Through the death of Jesus Christ, God
- Justly removes the sin barrier to reconciliation
- cleanses guilty consciences
- makes it possible for people to have a new heart (attitude), and a new nature
- makes it possible for people to be implanted with a new motivation for living (Ez.32:31-34).
- fulfills the promise to send God’s Holy Spirit to live in us, and to give us power to please God.
How can we know Him?
This personal knowledge of God begins with our readiness to respond to God's love expressed for us in Jesus Christ. There is no greater love than that which sacrificed itself for us to bring us back to Himself. This is what we were created for in the first place. This relationship affects all our relationships.
In dealing with our rebellious nature through His atoning sacrifice of Himself, Jesus Christ offers us a relationship that is the only way that can bring about 'at-one-ment' with God.
We discover Jesus Christ in God's Word, the Bible. It is through the Bible that God reveals the one and only truth about Himself. The ultimate revelation is in Jesus Christ, the centre of that revelation.
When we read a text book, we try to master the subject matter in it. But, when we read the Bible, we have to be mastered by the Subject of that revelation—Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit takes this revelation and leads us to a proper understanding of all that is true. (Jn.16:13). But, we have to pray for a readiness to be open to the truth.
In Jesus Christ we enter into an intimacy with God the Father that is unique. He claimed, "The Father and I are one." (Jn.10:30). He also said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (Jn.14:23).
In this triangle of love, a desire emerges within us to please the One who has done so much for us, —our heavenly husband. Jesus added, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love." (Jn.15:10).
Working at our relationship
As in every marriage, the relationship has to be worked at. Our obedience to God, and all that He has made plain to us through His Word, helps us to understand our relationship and how to work at it. Our desire to please God motivates us to try to overcome the obstacle that stand in the way of our human relationships. God promised that His grace and enabling are sufficient for our every need, if we will only trust Him, and in humility, be prepared to work at our problems.
Failure to work at this personal communion with Jesus Christ tends to leave Christians feeling empty, unmotivated, directionless, impotent, and even disillusioned, at times. That's when certain dangers creep in. We begin to look for substitute relationships and experiences.
Recognising the danger signs, admitting that we have lost our 'first love', can lead us back along the path of restoration and reconciliation.