Is Reconciliation Possible?

 
Wendy Alsup | Jan. 4, 2022

“I forgive you.” 

These are simple words, but hard ones. Perhaps they are words you just can’t bring yourself to say. Has someone harmed you so deeply you cannot imagine releasing them of their debt to you? Or perhaps these are words you long to hear. Have you harmed a loved one? Does restoring the relationship seem impossible? 

An Experience of Loss

I sat in the sanctuary of our Seattle megachurch as the charismatic pastor preached on the scene from Nehemiah 13 in which Nehemiah tore out the hair of elders who allowed their daughters to marry idol worshipers. “If I wasn’t afraid I’d end up on CNN, I would do that myself to some of my elders right now,” the preacher declared, drawing awkward laughter from the crowd in the pews.

The next day, I received an email from the two executive elders of our megachurch. Two of our oldest, most respected elders had been fired.

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This church conflict sent me down a path of dissonance that still, to this day, has not been fully resolved. Community and fellowship that had been cultivated over years was lost in days. It sent shock waves through the church and through my life and the lives of others. It remains a profound loss.

Such losses leave us stuck while our family, church, or work relationships go on without us. How do we navigate and grieve these losses when society does not necessarily even recognize them as real loss? 

An Example from The Bible

In the story of Joseph, his father, and his brothers, God gives a vision of what is possible when all seems lost, when reconciliation seems impossible, and when those we love are far off, seemingly out of our reach. 

Less than a chapter after we meet Joseph, he has been betrayed by his own brothers and flung into a hostile, unknown world. He will live for decades surrounded by people yet utterly alone. His brothers’ betrayal broke every relationship Joseph had had up to that point in his life, leaving him powerless to do anything except try to survive.

Joseph’s Ambiguous Loss

It’s helpful to have a name for our grief when we experience broken relationships as Joseph did. Therapist and researcher Pauline Boss popularized the phrase “ambiguous loss” (you can read more about it on her website: www.ambiguousloss.com).

This is different from a loss such as the death of a loved one—it’s less straightforward but still agonizing. It is a type of loss without a culturally recognized way to grieve or reach closure.

"Our God does the impossible on a regular basis."

The story of Joseph is a quintessential example of ambiguous loss. He lost the most important things humans need to flourish. He lost love. He lost belonging. He was alienated from all he had known—from all the relationships that were important to him.

There were multiple moments in Joseph’s story when reconciliation seemed impossible: the gulf too wide and the pain too deep to bridge.

Our path to reconciliation is complicated too—and we should acknowledge up front that not all relationships will be reconciled. We feel the grief Joseph felt, but we may not get to feel the relief of reconciliation on this side of eternity. 

However, that does not mean it is not worth pursuing. Our God does the impossible on a regular basis. He “gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). This is God’s character, and he is at work in our lives as he was in Joseph’s.

Hope for Reconciliation

Jesus has done all that is necessary to put an end to sin and brokenness, but we still wait to see that reality in all of our lives. You and I sit in various situations where reconciliation has already taken place. If nothing else, if you are trusting in Christ, you have been reconciled to God through him.

God can knit back together what we could never repair on our own. He reconciled Joseph’s family, just as he reconciles us to himself and one another. His grace won the day in the life of Joseph, and that same grace can win the day in our own lives too.

This article is adapted from I Forgive You by Wendy Alsup, which looks at forgiveness in the story of Joseph.

Wendy Alsup

Wendy Alsup is the author of Companions in Suffering and Practical Theology for Women. She lives on an old family farm in South Carolina, where she teaches math at a local community college and is a mother to her two boys. She writes at theologyforwomen.org and gospelcenteredwoman.org.

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