Can you remember any special experience of reconciliation? If so, past feelings of relief, joy, and peace may allow you to savor that memory.
Google defines reconciliation as “the restoration of friendly relations,” and “the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.”
Perhaps, as seldom before in history, we are aware of hostilities among family, ethnic, political, and religious groups. Some of it simmers just below the surface; some of it erupts from time to time between siblings, police and certain classes, or across national boundaries. Then, there is almost chronic strife—as in Southern Sudan, Israel and Palestine, and between White Europeans/Americans and people of color. Sometimes this strife is of explosive proportions.
The need for reconciliation is seen not only within individuals themselves, and various social or political groups but within and between religions. Religions are rightly blamed for major disputes and deaths around the world. Muslims are acting against Muslims (e.g. Shiites vs. Sunnis), radical Orthodox Jews can be hostile to reformed, progressive Jews. Discord in the Christian Church is dramatically evident, and there are examples of Christian violence towards others.
Theologian Miroslav Volf is a prominent proponent of reconciliation as described in his challenging book Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996). He proposes four difficult and long-term steps toward reconciliation: from Closed Arms…to Open Arms…to Embrace…to letting each go to be themselves. We are reminded that reconciliation needs to be studied, discussed, and finally practiced with trials and errors. Failures to embrace or reconcile should be turned into learning lessons and challenges for persistent efforts to move from diversity to unity, from hostility to peace.
The Jewish Scripture (oldest of the “three Western religions”) describes the effects of reconciliation in these words:
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil…running down the beard of Aaron…
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls upon the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained blessing, life forevermore. (Psalm 133, NRSV)
Islam also cries out for reconciliation and peace:
Had you given away all the riches of the earth you could not have joined their hearts, but it is Allah Who joined their hearts. Indeed He is All-Mighty, All-Wise. (Surah Al-Anfal: 63)
O Allah, reconcile (with love and understanding) between our hearts. And resolve our (broken) affairs. And guide us toward peace and paths of guidance…
(Dua from the Hadith of the Prophet)
Christian Scriptures, as well, urge unity out of diversity, peace beyond hostility.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
(Romans 12:8, NRSV)
Pursue peace with everyone….that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble.
(Hebrews 12:14a, 15b, NRSV)
Christ…in his flesh has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us…that he might create one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body… (Ephesians 2:13, 15-16)
Hopefully, global strife, fueled by religious, ethnic and political pride and greed, can submit to the deep human aspiration for reconciliation and peace. Hopefully religious faiths can model peaceful pluralism rather than nasty rivalries and deadly hostilities.
Our controversies rise from individual and corporate differences in wealth, power and ideologies. Whether we believe or not that all persons and cultures bear within them an image and values of a Higher Power, we must agree on a basic respect for all persons and societies, all identities and persuasions. Such respect calls for listening, a careful and patient telling and hearing of stories, affirmation of persons and cultures—as well as mutual respect beneath differences in faiths and ideologies.
We are left to ponder the balance between avoidance and intervention, between peace-making and military interventions. Despite apathetic and cynical indifference, trauma-induced defense mechanisms, and anger-fueled atrocities, we must believe that, deep within the human soul, there is a universal longing for reconciliation and peace.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
To what extent are you bothered by global and local hostilities?
Do you consider the divisions of today’s world hopeless in terms of constructive social change and great peace?
Have you worked out reconciliation with someone with whom you experienced some criticism, rejection or enmity?
Most of us have experienced some tension within ourselves—perhaps blaming ourselves unduly for imperfections. Do you agree we must find peace within ourselves (which many do through therapy or spiritual healing) before we can be effective reconcilers in the world? Why or why not?
Most nations of the world contain different religions and different cultures. Do you believe we must work toward peaceful pluralism—which means religions, while exhibiting their core values, should not impose their beliefs and practices on others?
The issue of religious freedom for conservative Christian schools and other institutions, in regards to gay rights, has been a contentious and difficult legal problem in the U.S. in 2015. Do you believe Christian schools have a right to exclude gay partners from faculty and staff positions?
What positive step might you, and your organization (place of worship, school, etc.) take in bringing about further reconciliation and peace?
Peace is not just an absence of rivalry and hostility. It connotes holistic well-being—expressed in the Hebrew word, Shalom.
Peace and reconciliation must be associated with truth and justice.
Both sides, progressive liberals and dogmatic conservatives, have a right to their beliefs and behaviors. With respect, they may to agree to disagree and seek some common ground for the common good.
Reconciliation in today’s world calls for some acceptance of multiculturalism and pluralism. These are no absolutes in regards to cultural diversity, but compromises need to be worked out by thoughtful minds and educated public opinion.
Human nature possesses both the seeds of reconciliation and peace, as well as tendencies toward hedonism and avarice. This is manifested on the individual, as well as the corporate and national, levels. Realistically, then, we must work for not perfect, but proximate reconciliation and peace.