Pastoral Series

Reconciliation: Unwittingly outwitted

Reconciliation: Unwittingly outwitted

When Paul explains why Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian life, he adds an interesting reason for its importance: “We do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:12).  When we live at a foggy distance from God, and when we harbor hard feelings toward others, Satan is delighted, and congratulates himself for a job well-done.

Now many modern people don’t accept the notion that there is a personal, evil force whose business is your undoing.  But clearly there is some sort of tug, some frighteningly strong attraction toward evil, toward division, toward cynicism, and away from holiness, away from bonding with the stranger, away from fixing what is broken.  Frederick Buechner cleverly wrote, “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.  The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself.  The skeleton at the feast is you.”

As always, the paradox of faith:  when you focus on yourself, when you put ‘me’ first, when you pass judgment and live for yourself instead of God and others, you wind up miserable, knotted up, hollow, with an undertone of exasperation all the time.  But when you abandon self, when you fix your attention on God’s way and the well-being of others, you flourish and experience joy.  God invites us into a new way of life, a longterm, ever-deepening friendship with God, and with others, especially those we don’t already count as friends.

The price for pursuing this?  Your pride, your being ‘right,’ your tightly held views of other people and the world – but then also your emptiness, your chagrin, your inner self that is so easily thrown off balance.  Whatever rancor you are holding close to your chest, you can let it go, you can learn to love and be at peace; you can be reconciled to family, to people of a different color or faith or economic situation, and most importantly, to God.

It’s important to remember that your quest for reconciliation might not be fully achieved.  Sometimes you strive faithfully to reconcile, to build a bridge, to make peace – but it’s just not reciprocated; it’s maddeningly one-way.  God experiences this all the time with us… but God persists, God is relentless – and God is at peace.  This is the Christian life with respect to others:  you do all you can, you show mercy, you strive for healing, you pray passionately for God’s assistance – and then you can rest, and even continue, for you are in sync with God’s way, you are at home in God’s embrace, and thus you are free to keep loving when the love isn’t returned, you can keep laboring to change the world even when it seems ridiculously slow or even going in reverse.

Vaclav Havel said that “Hope is the ability to work for something simply because it is good, whether it stands a chance of succeeding or not.”  The temptation to give up hope?  The surrender to strife?  That’s the work of the devil trying to outwit us.

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