A few years ago I was on the outside looking in at a conflict between two sets of believers. It was a painful conflict, with hurt and anger and broken relationships all around.
There was certainly sin on both sides of the issue, but from my vantage point it seemed that the side most at fault was getting the most sympathy, while the injured party was forced to take it on the chin. Since it was one of those messy situations where defending their honor would bring more dishonor in the long run, they suffered in silence.
I prayed a lot for that conflict. A. Lot. And I was quite specific on how I thought God needed to handle it. The person in the wrong deserved what we call around here a "come to Jesus" moment. A road to Damascus, Nathan-esque "YOU ARE THE MAN!" speech. I was generous, though, in telling God that the repentance could be private, but I did expect begging and tears. Justice demanded it.
Years have passed. The wound, which was once an angry red, is now somewhat healed, but the scar remains. Believers who should be joined in fellowship, whose encounters should be marked with joy, are stiff and polite. Everyone present is reminded of the hurt. It’s clear that the less right people are not going to believe the best of the less wrong people. And while the less wrong people could probably still try harder, they have decided to withdraw in hurt rather than make themselves vulnerable yet again.
Maybe it's just me, but I spend far too much time worrying about how other people need to repent. This case might be slightly more noble, because I was just a bystander. The justice I wanted was for someone else, not me. But before I get too far in the right versus wrong tally, I am forced to remember the times I have ridden in on my own high horse, with relationships so tangled that I can’t even think where things started to go wrong.
In Philippians, Paul tells Euodia and Syntyche to get along, and he doesn't say anything else about it. I don't mean to imply that Paul was against justice, but I think it's interesting that justice isn't mentioned. They are just to get along. The relationship is more important than who was right. This command is sandwiched between reminders in in 3:20-21 to keep focused on the Savior and the coming glory, and in 4:4 to rejoice. When conflicts come, do we focus on our common Savior, on how much we have been forgiven, or do we focus on who has the bigger part of repentance? We seem to wait for the other to do their part before we’re willing to bend.
Reconciliation is not just a Christian phenomenon. Non-Christians reconcile all the time. But there’s always an accounting. Non-Christians simply decide that the relationship is more important than being right. They weigh their options in the balance and see that what would be lost is far more valuable than what could be gained.
Only the gospel can allow reconciliation where it shouldn’t be. It’s only when we look to Jesus can we see that he absorbed all our hurt and pain on the cross. It’s only when we see what he suffered for us can we see that the scale will never be balanced by human endeavors. And so for his sake, and for his sake only, are we willing to forego justice for the sake of relationship. Even if the earthly price seems too high, we can look past that to the heavenly reckoning secured for us by Christ’s death and resurrection.
I wonder what heaven will be like, when all of us, with our petty grievances and disagreements, will be laid bare before the throne. We will stand, side by side, with those believers with whom we couldn’t get along. The hills we were so sure we needed to die on will be leveled by a holy gaze, and our right opinions will be purged of our pride and self-interest.
Will we remember what all the fuss was about, or will we be too busy worshiping before the throne?