How can I even consider reconciliation when there has been no justice?

Q. How can I even consider reconciliation when there has been no justice? A recent situation has left our church in great turmoil. We have been encouraged to live at peace and reconcile with those who have gotten away with so much that has damaged the church. I don’t see how I could ever be at peace with these people until they get what they deserve.  I know I am to try to live at peace “as far as it depends on me with everyone (Romans 12:18),” but where is the justice?

A. Is there really a dilemma between justice and reconciliation from God’s perspective? I have heard too often from those in church conflicts that there can be no peace until there has been justice.  Too often, as a consequence, there is no peace and no effort made to move toward reconciliation. The demand for “justice first” seems to be the ultimate trump card to seeking peace. Must our personal sense of what is just be assuaged before we can be peacemakers?  It seems to me that the order of our demand may be misplaced.

First, what is justice to one man may be tyranny to another.  Our standard of what is just is easy prey to our inability to have more than mere limited knowledge about most conflict situations in the church. Also, our inherent bias and presuppositions crafted by a lifetime of prior experiences further limits our ability to be truly objective about what is just.  Furthermore, we frequently fail in our Christian duty to another when we see only our sense of justice ruffled rather than our opportunity to serve a fellow sibling in Christ by helping free them from sin. Galatians 6:1 and 2 instructs us to restore our brother gently when we see them caught in sin.  Putting our personal sense of justice ahead of that duty would seem to kill the call to “carry each other’s burdens.” God models a different order it seems to me. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Doesn’t such a demonstration of God’s love equally call us to love first by seeking reconciliation before demanding justice? Then, could it be that the call of Galatians 6:1 and 2 may be more possible as we help our eternal sibling see their sin and move to restore them to a right relationship?

Second, what about the justice of the cross? Romans 15:2 and 3 says, “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”  Paul’s quote to Psalm 69:9 reminds us that we, too,  like Christ, are to deny ourselves even of our limited sense of justice in order to serve others.  From my human perspective, of course, I can think of nothing harder to do!  One of the first passages of Scripture I memorized was Micah 6:8: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  My nature is to emphasize the justice that God loves and to deemphasize mercy (that God also loves).  But God does not prioritize justice over mercy or humility. I have come to believe that I fulfill the call of what the Lord requires of me by reordering my priorities. God loves both justice and mercy and out of mercy and love and humility, I am now willing to seek reconciliation ahead of my sense of justice so that I might be positioned better to help my brother or sister who may be caught. God has given us to each other so that we might “be Christ” to one another in a certain limited sense. How better to demonstrate that than by not allowing my justice idol trump reconciliation.

-Dave Edling

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About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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