Friday, 11 May 2018

Reconciliation: A discussion guide

2 Corinthians 5 has one of the greatest explanations of salvation in the entire New Testament. There's a lot of them, so this is a pretty big claim. I say this mostly because I believe that this passage explains better than most how God's act of saving us moves directly into how we are participants in God's work in the world. Paul perfectly illustrates how God's work doesn't happen in a vacuum but rather feeds into us the ability and necessity of working alongside him. Look at this:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 2 Corinthians 5

There are several important points that we could take out of this, and probably many more than I'm capable of. But let's focus on the main themes. 

1) Reconciliation:

The act of reconciliation is one of the most important parts of God's work in the world. God works to bring everything back to himself. Reconciliation means the repairing and strengthening of a relationship. It means working through the hurt and wrong that's been done.

Right now Canada is in the midst of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This has by no means been a perfect process in our country, but it has helped to shed a light on the issues facing indigenous peoples today. And of course shedding light on the struggles of some in our society sheds light on the part in which all of us play in the history and hurt in our world. And this shedding of light is one of the most important parts of reconciliation, which is getting to the truth of what happened.

Revealing and recognizing the evils that have been done to us, or that we've done to others, is the first step of reconciliation. If what has been done is never brought to light then it can not be dealt with and properly forgiven. And forgiveness needs to be at the core of reconciliation. Even beyond issues of reward and punishment forgiveness lies at the heart and purpose. So in order for reconciliation to happen between God and the world that truth needs to be recognized. This truth is most often found when we look at ourselves and see our own participation in the evils and oppression of this world and recognize our own fault as truth. When we confess this to God that begins the process of reconciliation.

One part which is often lacking, however, is the reciprocal nature of reconciliation. It is often good theology to remember that God's plan and will are perfect and has no fault. This may be good theology, but it often goes against the grain of our experience, and frankly against the apparent opinions of biblical writers who questioned God's actions and motivations on a regular basis. But sometimes our experience shows us that there is evil in the world that God should be stopping, or there's hurt he could cure and doesn't. This can lead to a distrust in God's character that can't be reconciled with our theology, but can be reconciled within our relationship.

I think that sometimes it's important, and possibly more honest, to recognize these moments when we feel as if God is failing or falling short of our expectations of him. We may be wrong, but if we're honest with God, and approach him from a place of forgiveness I believe that this does far more within the ongoing work of reconciling us to God than simply burying those feelings and telling ourselves that we're wrong. God knows those feelings anyway, after all. I think that God will honor that honestly and trust in his work of reconciliation.

God's will and plan may be perfect, and there may be no actual need or reason for us to forgive him, and that may feel strange. But the worst that can happen is that we will be wrong about something with God, which is something we do everyday regardless. Being 'right' in this case is far less important than being honest.

2) Ambassadors:

Ambassadors are individuals who have no power unto themselves. They are only representatives of power, nothing more. Ambassadors may be worthy of respect and be people of station, but it has nothing to do with any power they themselves possess. This is one of the most important aspects of the ambassador illustration of us being sent out into the world.

It's also important to note that we are ambassadors of this reconciliation work that God is doing in the world. This means that anything we do which is not within the spirit of reconciling the world to God, and often this means reconciling the world to each other, then it falls outside of our mission as ambassadors. Ambassador's are given specific missions from those they represent. Our mission as God's ambassador's in this world is to represent God's work of reconciliation. This means living as if we're reconciled to God, which often means living with others as if they are as well.

You'll notice the first line of the passage. "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view." We don't see others from the view of worldly others, or as temporary beings. Rather as Ambassadors of reconciliation we view them as something God intends to bring into his own presence and power forever for the purpose of his glory. 

3) The Good News:

Good News language is not explicitly brought up in this passage but it is the entire theme. Paul is, in this passage, simply explaining the gospel (good news) in different language from what we're used to. This is why, I think, it comes across as so powerful, simply because it is unfamiliar.  What is important about this good news is that it sounds, unmistakably, like good news. Everything about it is good.

This stands in stark contrast to what sometimes in the church today sounds unmistakably like bad news. News about a vengeful God who is unhappy with people and demanded the blood of his own son, (don't stat quoting scripture at me, I'm aware of those passages already). The Bible, and God, can talk about the news any way they want. But we should be very careful that the Good news we're offering the world is carefully thought through, and grounded in a holistic view of scripture. One of the litmus tests for this, I think, is simply 'does this news sound good?' This is not a perfect test of course since our perfect idea of what's good will fall far short of what God's perfect idea is. Nevertheless, we should be ever thoughtful on the news that we believe and trust in, it will greatly influence our worldview and therefore our actions and our treatment of people.

Discussion Questions:

1) If God's work is about reconciling the world to God, then how have you been reconciled? Has this ever included forgiving God for what seems like his part in a broken world?
2) What does all this mean as we ask God to send us into the world as his ambassadors? How are we going to make sure we're asking God to send us out?
3) What is the good news as you've understood it? How has it changed or stayed the same for you over the years? Have you ever seen the 'bad' in the good news you've believed in?


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