Laura L. Hamman, LPC, ThM, MABC
Reconciliation and forgiveness are not synonymous, despite the tendency to link them together. Although reconciliation requires forgiveness to occur first, forgiveness does not require reconciliation. Both sides in a broken relationship must be involved for a relationship to heal. Where there is forgiveness there is not always reconciliation. For example, Jesus calls for forgiveness (Matt 6:12-15, Mark 11:25-26, Luke 17:3-4, for example), yet Jesus also instructs his disciples to “shake the dust off your feet” when leaving a town that has rejected them (Matt 10:14, Mark 6:11, and Luke 9:5). He does not say don’t forgive them for their rejection of the gospel; instead he implies that reconciliation is not required. The disciples are to shake even the dust of the town off of their feet, so there is no longer a connection between the disciples and those who have rejected the good news.
Forgiveness means to renounce revenge and to be open for healing, not necessarily reconciliation. Reconciliation includes resuming a relationship; this can be impossible or dangerous in some situations. Reconciliation can only occur when both sides come to the table, and it is safe for everyone involved.
Reconciliation is not required, however, it is a goal that should be pursued when the offender sincerely seeks restoration of relationship through true repentance, and authentic change in behavior and attitude. Reconciliation is a process that is biblically based and a God-honoring goal, but it is a process that takes two sides to achieve and cannot be a one-sided situation. When an offender has fully turned to God for forgiveness, with repentance and confession, God is willing to forgive and reconcile. However, only God can read what is truly in a person’s heart. Therefore, the offended person needs to be aware that only God can honestly guide them in the course of reconciliation. Although the goal is peace and reconciliation through Christ, the offended person still needs to decide when, or if, it is safe to reconcile with their offender.