My wife and I are new parents, and we have been finding out the significance of different types of groans and cries from our little, three-month-old girl, Hope. We have now been trained to hear the difference in her cries when she is tired, hungry, overheated, or just halfheartedly whining from agitation. It took several weeks of misreading crying eruptions until we finally knew what would quell her discomfort, and our love motivated the action to continually learn her ways.
We long to be doubly reconciled, to God and each other.
These cries have led me to thinking about more intrinsic, subtle groans from the lifestyles of people in our cities. I believe part of the groan of our culture is for reconciliation. Christ bravely started the process for bringing grace to humanity that we may be reconciled with God, and Paul exclaims God did this through Jesus’ death: “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God” (Rom. 5:10). Yet even in the vulnerable descending of Christ, he came to meet rejection from his own people (though there were those who received and became sons/daughters of God – Jn. 1:11-12). Our reconciliation to God is not simply about our individual forgiveness, but also includes togetherness with divinity; not only has Christ forgiven the offenses, he has made us one with God through the Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Humanity plays a small active role in receiving this reconciliation through our believing, receiving, and participating in the hard work done by Christ to make us one with God (having been given faith by God).
Secondly, we must be reconciled with those in our communities of faith who also find themselves reconciled to God. Colossians 1:19-20 implicitly relays this agenda: “For in him (Christ) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” It is duplicitous for us to claim reconciliation with God when we ourselves are not reconciled to others who are also reconciled to the same God. How can we go about doing the work of the kingdom by reconciling others to God when we are not even reconciled within our own faith communities?
If we are all reconciled to Christ, we must all be found in together in him.
There are plenty of us who have seen and experienced the hard work of being reconciled to others in communities of faith. The church hopping done by those who have been wounded in relationships helps neither the wounded, nor the one wounding to grow as individuals. The passage in 1 John 2:10 directs us to continually love our brothers/sisters that we may “abide in the light, and have no cause for stumbling.” Our wholeness in personhood and our theology both suffer when we distance ourselves from tension in relationships and thwart reconciliation.
This double reconciliation – to God and others – begets our response as we act as ambassadors for Christ, compelling the world to be reconciled to God. We compel others to reconciliation with God through knowing their own cries and vulnerably showing how God has reconciled us to himself through Christ’s work, so that “what we are is also know to your (others’) conscience.” (2 Cor. 5:11)
My wife and I are those parents who still have their child in the bassinet as she quickly approaches the size constraints of the little sleeping bed; but on the positive side, it does allow for us to hear her every whimper for help (as long as our exhaustion doesn’t override our hearing). This makes me wonder, are we close enough with others to hear their cries for reconciliation with God and other people? Do we do the work of listening and allowing them to share about themselves more than we make assumptions about who they are for our convenient categories of description? Do we know what kind of reconciliation the Lord desires in our relationships? Are we prepared to act towards such politically charged, national issues concerning race/ethnicity and sexual identity for the sake of reconciliation with God and others? Are there groans within ourselves with which we are unaware, and thereby unknowingly circumventing our reconciliation with our families and communities? Isaiah 58-59 points Israel to their own cries of oppression when they were obliviously praying and fasting.
There is hard work ahead for inward reconciliation with God to be realized among our relationships with those in communities of faith and with the world around us; but we know this effort is well worth it because of the unconquerable love which compels us to be as close to the cries of others as we are to the cries of our own children.
*For more thorough explanations on reconciliation, and related justification issue, see Frank Macchia, Justified in the Spirit, and N.T. Wright, Justification.