Is Reconciliation Even the Right Word?

There is a somewhat popular line of thought among social justice advocates that we should drop the use of the word reconciliation altogether. There never was, the argument goes, a time in which white and black existed in any kind of united or harmonious relationship in South Africa, and therefore any talk of reconciliation, with its implications of restoration, should be dropped altogether. In this sense, I have no problems with this line of reasoning.

A Reconciled Future:

Theologically, however, we do have strong grounds for speaking of reconciliation. The Bible tells us that there was a time, before the fall, in which humanity was united. A time when the image of God was respected, celebrated and fully expressed in all. Furthermore, the Bible points us forward to a time when once again there will be a reconciled humanity. The great multitude of humanity in Revelation 7:9 are said to be from “every nation, tribe, people and language.” Notice that within this united multitude praising the Creator there is still ethnic, cultural and linguistic distinction. The biblical story does not culminate in a bland colour blind or mono-cultural future, which would require no reconciliation because difference would simply no longer exist.

If the picture language of New Creation, found throughout both the Old and New Testaments, can be said to be pointing in any direction, it is in the direction of a rich, diverse, beautiful multi-cultural and ethnic future, where the beauty of diversity is enjoyed and celebrated, and not used as a tool to divide or foster notions of supremacy based on skin tone, facial features or cultural markers. A united and yet differentiated future for humanity will require an act(s) of reconciliation.

The Scars of Injustice:

We must, however, affirm the issues which the contextual nature of this objection raises. Our land bears the scars of colonialism, illicit land claims, forced removals, imported slave labour, illegitimate children of rape and coercion, a greed fueled grabbing of resources, indentured labourers imported to work the sugar cane fields, apartheid segregation and racial classification, the bantu education system, economic exploitation, homelands and institutionalized self-hate. We must never dare to speak of reconciliation without recognizing our scar-ridden history and the systems built, both by and for, the perpetuation of that history. Those systems are largely still in place today.

True reconciliation cannot happen while we refuse to acknowledge not only the scars of the past but the new wounds being inflicted daily, by the old systems lurching on unchallenged and even unquestioned. Some may have new masters pulling the levers but these systems continue unabated in their perpetuation of injustice and inequality. We must avoid seeking only inter-personal reconciliation while leaving the systemic means of oppression intact.

The Cost of Reconciliation:

Reconciliation is possible, the Bible tell us, but we who know the true cost of reconciliation, the death of the Son of God himself, can never settle for a cheap reconciliation which papers over the cracks of inequality upon which this country is built. There can be no true reconciliation without justice.

It was the satisfaction of the just wrath of God through the death of Jesus on the cross which bought our true reconciliation with God and with each other. How can we who claim the unearned fruits of reconciliation built off the satisfaction of divine justice now turn around and declare that a justice-less reconciliation is possible or even desirable? Reconciliation is both possible and desirable but it will cost us dearly. We will have to face the injustices of our past and their continuing legacies. We will have to face our own complicity, both as perpetrators and as beneficiaries of injustice. And perhaps, most painful of all, we have to interrogate the legacy of the church as both perpetrators and beneficiaries of injustice.

Reconciliation is possible only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, who sets us free from our own guilt, reconciles us to God and invites us into his beautiful movement of restoration, reconciliation, and grace, now in part and one day in full. Because of Jesus, we have had our stone hearts of racism, greed, privilege and fear replaced by hearts of flesh, which enable us to love our enemies, lay down our rights, listen to those we have been taught to hate, and share our resources with those not like us.

Reconciliation, biblically understood, is both the correct and possible, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. But it will cost us. It cost Jesus everything.