Kathryn Jean Lopez article in the Catholic News magazine “Our Sunday Visitor” on reconciliation in times of Corona has inspired me deeply. “Maybe it is time for reconciliation” states Lopez to her Catholic readers. Locked in our apartments, each one of us has plenty of time to think about God, oneself and the world. Life before was busy so it has become quite easy to forget our own creator. Maybe we should consider spending some time with HIM and his word, confessing our sins and get free for the next phase of life after corona. All specialists predict that the time after CoViD19 might be much more difficult than what we experience now. It is obviously smart to free ourselves from all the sinful burdens of the past. Reconciled people are free to start anew with full power. You will need to be free to start like this.
Reconciliation with God leads automatically to restauration of our own identity. Apostle Paul writes, that whoever is in Christ – is a new creation, the old things have lost their influence, new things have started to shape reality (2Cor. 5:17). Reconciliation with God results in reconciliation with oneself. We have plenty of time to think and pray about our own identity. Many Western people live by a growing inferiority complex. They urgently need reconciliation with their own past, their own ways of enculturation and their own position in society. Only people with a healthy self-esteem will be able to stay “above water” in times of crisis. Spend time with yourself, find your own face in the presence of the Lord.
With all the spare time now, you might think of people you are still in conflict with. Problems with other people absorb our energy tremendously, destroy our perfect plans. Broken relationships are the greatest ballast on our way towards a meaningful life. You may have separated from your partner long ago, but bad memories do not leave you that easily. Healing of memories is urgently needed if you want to avoid becoming bitter about it. Now in times of CoViD19 you should have enough time to take up a phone and call your former friend or partner, seek some heart talk, and reconcile. Reconciled people are free to build new relationships and maybe restore former ones.
You may even take a look out of your window to the garden and decide to commit yourself anew to God´s good creation. There is enough time now to plant some flowers and trees in the garden. You could even build a little house for the lovely birds singing their songs. They have been busy all morning to sing for you. Have you ever spent some time to work a little for them? Or you simply admire them for a moment. God gave you a cultural mandate: you are supposed to care for the nature around you (Gen. 1:26-28). So do you? If you don’t, there is a pressing need to reconcile with nature!
So maybe this pandemic gives us extra time to reconcile?
How does reconciliation work?
The New Testament word for reconciliation katalasso describes a process in which you enroll in a conversation where you jointly (a) determine the state you are in and what caused the situation; (b) name abuse, injustice, the victims and perpetrators; (c) confess sin, ask for forgiveness and possibly forgive in Jesus’ name; (d) develop a new relationship for a better future.
Firstly, reconciliation looks for truth, because only when we know what really happened can we become free. Jesus says: “You will recognize the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The problem here lies with our memory. We always remember by interpreting situations. And our interpretation is colored by our culture, experience and often by prejudices. We may think we know why God seems so far, why we ourselves so often experience inferiority attacks and why our neighbors constantly create conflicts. In reality we work with our own limited perspective and this even may have turned into a lie. Recovering what truly happened will most likely bring a counselor, a neutral mediator to the scene. This can be a pastor in your local church or a trained Christian psychologist or simply a good Christian friend. Going back and forth on your issues, exercising katalasso, you may soon discover the truth, broaden your perspective and understand what really happened between you and God, you and family members or you and your neighbor.
Secondly, knowing the true story allows you to name the forces of abuse, destruction and conflict. Do not try to cover up but open your heart for truth. This will allow for honest confessions and a true cry for forgiveness to happen. Sin, both against God and against humans, has names. Speak them out and prepare to confess them to God, yourself, your neighbors and even to creation.
Thirdly, confess your sin and be prepared to forgive those who have sinned against you no matter if this is yourself or other humans. And you will receive forgiveness out of God´s grace.
And lastly, work for justice. Go and pay your share, accept the consequences if this is what your misbehavior has produced. Forgiveness does not wipe out the question of justice. In fact, forgiveness is a transformational process which enables the forgiven to carry their load of punishment, to restore justice and build just relationships.
For all of this we need time. Reconciliation does not happen overnight. And here is the good news – the awkward situation with the virus is opening up plenty of time for us to get active in this realm.
Corona virus and community mediation
But the difficult time does not only mean an invitation to personal reconciliation. It opens doors for community reconciliation. Corona does not pick and choose its victims. All humans in the whole world are in danger. Only when we all unite will we win the war against the virus. And this forces even enemies to “join hands” for the time being. Across all religious affiliations or national feelings people of good will want to start supporting one another and share their masks, food and water with other communities.
And again, Christians should be in the first lines of such community support actions. And going to the nasty neighbor in times of need and crisis will soften their heart, and open potential doors for settling conflicts and establishing a peaceful community. In a city in Central Asia, for instance, Christians were distributing masks to the Muslims of the community. There has always been a rather difficult relationship between the two faith communities. But now, observing Christians serving the Muslims, their leaders came an apologized for all the problems they created for the Christians.
The time of crisis is inevitably also a time of chances for reconciliation, mediation and a new start. The American journalist Kathryn Lopez is right, maybe the corona pandemic calls us for a deeper level of reconciliation. Let´s set aside the needed time and find new ways towards God, ourselves, our neighbors and even creation. This is a great chance we shouldn’t miss.
Dr. Johannes Reimer is professor of Mission Studies and Intercultural Theology at the Ewersbach University of Applied Arts, Germany and director of the department of Public Engagement in the Worldwide Evangelical Alliance (WEA).