Humpty Dumpty and The Scale of Reconciliation

Reconciliation is… what exactly?

I gave an introductory seminar recently about reconciliation and this somewhat rhetorical question hung out there like a piñata. Reconciliation is…something broken being returned to wholeness; forgiveness between two people; credit to a debit and vice versa; South Africa; marriage problems; two groups of people making up. At one point, I felt like I had asked, think of a number between 1 and infinity. Good, that’s reconciliation!

The scalability of a word like reconciliation is part of the problem. It’s why even when we read it in scripture, the Greek word itself comes from two component words, kata + allos, which means “toward” or “for the purpose of” + “other” or “difference”. Together these components make up the “reconciliation.” And it is used in the interpersonal sense as well as the cosmic sense in the Greek. I appreciate it when Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice begin their book, “Reconciling All Things” with that tension and vagueness upfront:

We know the world is broken, and we know we’re too broken to fix it ourselves. We teach our children a realist’s rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall / Humpty Dumpty had a great fall / And all the kings horse and all the kinsmen / Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” But Humpty-Dumpty realism begs the question, can anyone fix us? What air who is out there beyond our landscapes of brokenness?

In the modern world we try to bracket this question even as we seek reconciliation. We are aware that differences in religion can create conflict. So we try to find common ground without reference to anything beyond the common human experience. This makes reconciliation a very popular yet hopelessly gauge (and therefore increasingly unhelpful) concept. It also forces some (especially those who have suffered great injustice) to insist that reconciliation is not the right goal in human conflict. “When were we ever unified?” they ask.

Without reference to an explicit beyond, we are left with versions of reconciliation that offer little concrete hope that fundamental change is possible. We want to be clear: when we talk about the “beyond,” we mean the God who is revealed in Christian Scripture as Creator and Redeemer of the cosmos, the God of Israel who raised the crucified Jesus from the dead. A Christian vision of reconciliation needs a theological foundation. More than that, however, the term beyond reminds use hat reconciliation is a journey beyond our own vision, beyond human actors and our strategies and programs. God’s desire and vision is beyond our desire and vision. Reconciliation is not merely the sum total of our work; it’s also the peculiar gift we learn to receive as we live into the story of God’s people. This explicit reference to God’s story is missing in the prevailing versions of reconciliation today.

I didn’t mention this before when I looked up the Greek word for reconciliation, but the lexicon makes note that according to Paul, reconciliation is brought about by God alone, which is why in Rom. 5:11, we receive it. It is given to us, Paul reiterates in 2 Cor. 5:18, this ministry of reconciliation, given to us.

In a sense there is this reflexive property of reconciliation that is in symmetry with so many other biblical concepts: blessing – Abraham was blessed in order to be a blessing to all nations; incarnation – the Word became flesh and walked among us, even as Jesus himself began to preach the Word!; Forgiveness – we forgive as we have been forgiven. That which is done for us becomes our work to do. The noun becomes a verb.

Reconciliation is given to be a gift, to be received so that we might know how to share it. These properties are part and parcel of the gospel as a whole then it seems — which is why we know something is wrong when someone says they believe the gospel but cannot be reconciled in the simplest of relationships. That doesn’t show a transformation process of being the object of the gospel to being a subject to it. Question then: if many of our churches are just now getting to understand this justice and compassion-oriented side of reconciliation, is it possible we did not fully understand the gift of reconciliation through Christ?


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come. View all posts by David Park

One response to “Humpty Dumpty and The Scale of Reconciliation

  • Kim Schroeder

    Before reconciliation happens as an act of God’s grace or by a person’s willingness there needs to be confession. This blog IMHO is an attempt as evidenced by your entries and I thank you. For those of us who remember “The Door”, were we to be honest, we would have to acknowledge it did little more than provide iconoclastic entertainment. I loved it in the same way America loved Jerry Springer. Both dealt with real issues, but focused on extremes that make us feel comfortable because “we” may have our short comings, but “WE” are not “THAT” bad!
    Confession is different and not something all of us understand. It is deeply personal and yet public. At the risk of sounding like I’m slamming the Church and idolizing Jack Nicholson, we may say we want the truth but can we handle it? That is an unfair statement as is. I believe we are sincere, but we just do not know how. A professor at TEDS made a bold statement one day that rose more than a few eyebrows. He said, “The real Church of Jesus Christ is in exile and lives in AA”. He of course did not mean we should turn to AA for salvation, but he meant to show what confession to each other looks like. It is more than confessing our sins as we understand it. It means we confess ourselves and what we are to each other like we confess to God who already knows. In AA there is a saying, “No one gets into AA on their good behavior!” It is assumed upon entry that you are “full of S***!” However, over time as you hear others confess themselves you will learn how to be honest with yourself and others including your higher power that many choose to call God. In AA your life depends on confession. Confession is so key that you cannot be thrown out because of anything you confess. I am not talking about salvation or church membership. I am talking about honesty. I am talking about an environment that openly fosters confession as a lifestyle not because it is a good thing, but because it is necessary for survival.
    There are other “Bob Jones” stories waiting to break on CNN. Nothing makes a CNN editor happier than to find more evidence of Christian hypocrisy. If the church were an alcoholic I would be call this hitting bottom, the point where you can no longer hide and your life has become unmanageable. The point where you do something about it or you will probably die. If you decide to enter recovery you will eventually look at this time as the best thing that ever happened to you. Obviously I’m a member of AA and have been for a long time relative to my 53 years. I know.

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