For some reason this issue (retribution vs. reconciliation) has been on my mind a lot lately. Part of the reason is having a new baby. There’s something about spending time with Jude and Wren that makes me think about things such as redemption and reconciliation. In my family, and especially in my relationship with my own dad, I’ve struggled with the desire for retribution and the need for reconciliation. Maybe it’s also partially influenced by the whole Osama Bin Laden thing. I’ve found myself excited that he’s dead and he can no longer directly hurt people- as some have put it, “justice has been served.” I’ve also found myself wondering if my excitement, thoughts, and feelings have somehow moved away from the arena of justice to vengeance (a.k.a. retribution).
One reason this should be a big deal to us is that reconciliation should be one of the defining values of a Jesus-follower. The Apostle Paul writes that God through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Although we may 100% embrace the idea that Jesus went to the cross for us, forgave us our sins, and gave us a restored relationship with God, we often struggle to practically live out that reconciliation right now in the real world. Two examples stick out in my mind…
#1) Reconciliation in our families. I constantly hear about how the family is endangered in America due to issues such as the “culture wars,” the debate about gay marriage, or the growing depravity of the entertainment industry. I personally think the greatest attack is not from outside but from within our families due to broken relationships.
Many of us have been impacted by divorce, whether as participants or victims. We’ve seen husbands and wives exchange vows then break those vows. I’ve personally heard Christians say that they are divorcing due to “irreconcilable differences.” I’ve seen adult children refuse to speak to their parents due to mistakes from the past and vice versa. Somehow we’ve grown to accept that love can turn into hatred.
This is not a distant struggle for me. As an adult I watched my parents go through a divorce due to my father’s indiscretions that was finalized one month before my wedding. Although I was extremely close to my Dad while growing up, we ended up going through two years of not speaking. I had a choice to make: I could either make him pay for his mistakes for the rest of his life or seek reconciliation.
I think somewhere along the line God showed me that if I’m going to talk about being reconciled to our heavenly Father that I need to be reconciled to my earthly father. I especially want my kids to understand what scriptural reconciliation is about- hopefully they’re seeing it right in front of them.
#2) Reconciliation with our enemies. I know that’s a pretty broad term, but when I use it you probably already have a picture of who that is from your perspective. Usually, when we’re using the “us” and “them” terminology, your enemies would be the “them.” Maybe it’s those nations or groups at war with America. Maybe it’s the groups on the opposite side of the Christian culture wars. For a Democrat it may be a Republican and to Republicans it’s the Democrats.
Here’s the big challenge: Jesus teaches us to love our enemies just as He tells us to love our neighbors. Whether we consider someone (or a group of people) our neighbor or our enemy, Jesus challenges us to love them in the same manner.
I do not believe this means we should not seek justice nor stop those who are doing wrong from harming the innocent. Unfortunately, we often cross the line of justice into the arena of vengeance and retribution. Only when we place vengeance in God’s hands can we approach others with a spirit of reconciliation so that they may see the life of Jesus in us. I realize this is a tough line to tow…
How do we really know if we’re driven by justice or vengeance?
What does it look like show forgiveness and offer reconciliation while not dismissing appropriate consequences?
I’d love to hear your feedback.
One thought on “Retribution vs. Reconciliation”
Kevin, is there truly reconciliation when we insist on the “appropriate consequences”? Who decides what those are? Did Jesus suffer appropriate consequences for ‘blasphemy’? Just food for thought. You raise some important issues, thank you. I too have issues with my parents, particularly my dad. Interestingly you perceive the “silent treatment” as punishment – but what if its simply the best thing to do at the time? When faced with a ‘stubborn’ individual maybe its best to leave sleeping dogs lie!?! And after all, Christ had His disciples walk right out of town when the Good News wasn’t accepted, and directed them to testify against that town. As well there are limits to the process of which Christ is very specific. Attempt reconciliation several times, and if its not possible there is no fault. Sincerely in Christ, Steve.