This is the final post in a series on forgiveness.
“It’s just not the same.”
Maybe you’ve said it about an old friendship or even a marriage. You and someone you love went through a tough time. The relationship dissolved or came very close to it.
Over time, you’ve been able to patch things up, but the ease and transparency of your former conversations is now a memory. Neither of you impulsively picks up the phone for a chat or enthusiastically thinks about what you might do together next. There’s effort where once was you felt drawn by desire.
When we forgive someone else we free ourselves from the burden of resentment and bitterness about old wounds. But our forgiveness does not restore relationships.
If you have ever mourned a lost or diminished relationship, you have discovered that forgiveness alone is not sufficient. Jesus certainly teaches us to forgive, and it bears much good fruit when we do.
Nevertheless, God created us for relationship: relationship with him and relationship with each other.
God the Father is not content to gather together a dysfunctional family. And followers of Jesus should not settle for a squabbling, fractious family, either.
On the contrary, we are given a clear mission as followers of Jesus. As St. Paul puts it, Christ sends us to announce and to facilitate the greatest reweaving of relationships the world will ever see:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:18-20a)
Christ’s love for us stirs a desire for relationship that will not leave us satisfied with merely forgiving and walking away. We will yearn not only for a healed soul but a restored relationship.
In this life, our yearning for reconciliation will not be completely met.
Reconciliation requires contrition. If you’ve hurt me or betrayed me or stolen from me, I understandably keep my distance until I see that you have no intention of continuing the same behavior.
Some will refuse to admit that they were wrong and will show no remorse. Their posture prevents reconciliation from occurring.
And yet, their refusal to be contrite does not extinguish our hope, because we can trust that God is relentlessly at work. We can respond to such situations by maintaining healthy boundaries, offering persistent prayer, and refusing to give up on God’s power to restore the ones he loves.
Even in cases of where genuine contrition is offered, reweaving broken relationships takes time, risk, and patience. Restoring trust takes time, and trust is the key ingredient for reweaving broken relationships.
Reconciliation does not merely press the reset button on a relationship. We can never be together what we were as if this thing that broke us in the first place had never happened.
But neither does this mean that strains and fractures in a relationship will always result in diminished bonds. On the contrary, forgiveness and reconciliation—by the grace of God—bring us to a deeper, more mature connection.
That’s because God responds to human brokenness with the healing love of the Cross of Christ. This is why St. Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Our fractured relationships are not the same. Christ is making them something more than we can make for ourselves. This is the hope we find in the Cross.