Lincoln & Reconciliation
By Kirk Miller
A few weeks ago I went and saw Lincoln. First let me say Daniel Day-Lewis was amazing as Lincoln and he deserved the Oscar he won. I mean, if you can portray Lincoln, top hat and all without being cheesy… that is a feat my friends! Don’t worry; I won’t be giving anything away about the movie in this theology article, just what overall cultural and theological issues stuck out. Much of the movie did not focus on the war itself but the passing of the 13th amendment, which freed slaves, and the desire of Lincoln to reconcile the North and South after the war was over. The concept of reconciliation permeated the movie and my “editor in chief” (Assad) gave me the assignment to write on the theology of reconciliation. I gladly accept!
There are two major theological ways we can be reconciled, first and most important is as a sinner being reconciled to God (through placing your trust in Jesus). The second is how we are to reconcile to each other.
First, upon placing faith in Christ the believer has been reconciled to God by being justified and adopted into God’s family. Justification is a legal act declaring the individual not guilty and restoring someone to righteousness based on the work of Jesus as a substitution for atonement (Rom. 3:25-26). The death of Christ has paid the penalty for unrighteousness and fulfilled requirements of the law (Eph. 2:14-22). Justification is not infusing the individual with more ‘holiness’ than they had before but instead declares their condition before the Holy God as not guilty. This is VERY good news! If you have not discovered this first step of reconciliation then don’t read on, ponder this and be reconciled to Jesus first. Read John 3:16.
For those of us who have experienced this first step let’s move on to step two, reconciliation with each other. Let’s start the discussion with a simple question; can or will people change? The answer to this question will greatly affect the way that a person will approach reconciliation. If I don’t believe that people will or can change then that will reduce or completely stop the process of reconciling to others. If we don’t believe people can change then I believe we have missed an important truth that God has instilled in all of us the ability to be different than what we currently are (through the regenerative power and sanctification of the Holy Spirit).
The apostle Paul is a good example of how people can change. He was zealous for Judaism and for persecuting Christ followers at all costs. He believed in his own effort to be reconciled to God and then on the road to Damascus everything changed, he changed. After being faced with the presence of God the scales fell from his eyes, and he began the journey toward a redefined and repurposed life (Acts 9:1-31). Paul illustrates this change by saying “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17). The redemptive thread that runs throughout the bible is that we can change, not on our own strength but with God’s help. Knowing that we can change and God is in the business of doing just this let’s take a closer look at what reconciliation is.
First, reconciliation is, though different in definition fundamentally connected to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a command of God and its process releases us from hurting ourselves from bitterness. Reconciliation is different. Reconciliation requires the actions of two people whereas forgiveness takes only one. Many people confuse reconciliation with forgiveness and end up going back into relationships that are damaging or hurtful because they think that is forgiveness. God does however give all Christ followers the ability to reconcile and commands us in scripture to live in harmony with everyone to the best of our ability (Rom. 12:18). It takes someone repenting of his or her sin and accepting that forgiveness to be reconciled to God. It is the same way in our relationships. Even though we freely forgive it takes a lot of effort and two people willing to work toward a reconciled relationship.
I believe it is God’s hope that we would all be reconciled to Him (1Timothy 2:4-6) and to each other. As a pastor I counsel people toward direction to acknowledge emotions underlying the problem, reframe the problem in terms of those feelings, promote acceptance of those emotions and then restructure the interaction to create emotional engagement again, which brings reconciliation. A good book for more information on this topic would be Emotionally Focused Therapy by Susan M. Johnson.
By using the biblical concepts of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-22) God’s help and a lot of hard work from two willing parties, people can be reconciled to each other and create powerful bonding and a new positive interactional cycles in which people can be emotionally accessible and responsive to each other.
Once our country was fractured by slavery and by a civil war where brothers were killing brothers and it seemed the dream of America was forever gone. How could we ever be reconciled? Did we? Have we become two willing parties, who over time worked at forgiving, repairing and eventually reconciling with each other? Do the memories of when we were fractured leave? NO! Trust me, I lived in Alabama, it is not forgotten. But as much as I saw the confederate flag flown in the South, the American flag flew higher. This country is in the process of being reconciled. I look forward to the day it is done.
Lincoln was killed because he wanted to heal our country, but Jesus died to reconcile us to God. Part of that work on the cross is that we can be reconciled to each other as well. It’s never too late and nobody is too far-gone, because with God, ALL things are possible (Matt. 19:26).