The other day we held one of our regular Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA) discussion groups. We began to tackle the book entitled Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing written by the co-directors of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke University, Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole.
We began to talk about the title of the book. What is reconciliation? Do we need to reconcile all things? Is this realistic within the South African context? Is it realistic in general?
Is reconciliation realistic? A story that was told about a group that came together for a training event to explore themes of ecology and faith. As part of the process, this group underwent an intensive time together, working to build trust with one another so that they would be able and ready to delve into topics that waited to be explored. Building trust in this group was, at first, particularly difficult. The group was racially mixed, bringing together people who had particular assumptions about the other racial groups. This group, however, ended up coming together like no other group had as they broke down the barriers and assumptions that had been constructed and learnt about one another, about each other’s story, and ultimately gained a level of trust for one another.
Is this relationship, this trust, sustainable? This is a valid question. After such a workshop the participants will head back to their different contexts and re-integrate into the community they left; the same community that continues to hold the assumptions that they too held before coming together for this training. Is reconciliation realistic given that people will return and reintegrate into the contexts that continue the life inherited within an unjust context and system, which continues to be socially, racially, and economically segregated? Will the participants of this training event, where racial barriers were broken down, continue to feel part of the reconciled community when they head back to their given context?
Is reconciliation realistic? Is it possible to reconcile black and white? Rich and poor?
The answers to these questions depend on what we accept as “realistic.” What is the true story that is being told?
The question whether reconciliation is realistic is valid. It recognizes that all efforts made to reconcile peoples with one another and with God are but drops in a bucket in a world that is so much in need of reconciliation. The task we face is monumental. From the perspective of the Christian gospel, however, we are reminded that it is not we who reconcile, but God. We are invited to participate in God’s reconciling mission in the world. But ultimately it is God who reconciles us to each other and to God.
The gospel also reminds us that a new reality has already come into existence – there is already a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15, Eph. 2:15): “if anyone is in Christ, new is creation” or “if anyone is in Christ, there is a whole new world.”* In other words, through Christ an alternative world already exists. The Apostle Paul sheds additional light on the reality of this alternative world; we have become fellow inheritors of the liberation brought through the Son (Gal. 4:5-7); the principalities and powers have been disarmed, made into a public spectacle, and have been defeated (Col. 2:15); and the sting of death has been taken away so that life may be victorious.
“Paul is explaining why he no longer regards anyone from the human point of view; why he does not regard Jew as Jew or Greek as Greek, but rather looks at every person in the light of the new world which begins in Christ. ‘The old has passed away, behold the new has come,’ is a social or historical statement, not an introspective or emotional one” (Yoder, 223).
This is the new reality. This is the new creation, the new humanity we participate in through Christ.
However, not everyone knows about this new creation or new humanity. This is a challenge. Yet another challenge is that we tend to forget that we are now participating in this new humanity. These are the challenges we face as the church – to make known the story about the new creation that is present and real where Jew and Gentile share as fellow heirs and partakers of God’s promises in Christ (Eph. 3:6). It is the responsibility of the church to make known what was once a mystery (Eph. 3:10). This is a difficult task; one that the church has not always lived up to. Yet, this is the task – to proclaim this new humanity as the new reality in today’s world, and then to live what we proclaim.
“It is the Good News that my enemy and I are united, through no merit or work of our own, in a new humanity that forbids henceforth my ever taking his or her life in my hands” (Yoder, 226).
And so, is reconciliation realistic? The answer depends on what we assume to be real. If we are a part of this new humanity made possible through Jesus Christ, then reconciliation is not only possible but is present and will continue to be present until all things have been gathered in Christ (Eph. 1:10). In fact, in light of this assumption, non-reconciliation is not realistic!
* John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), pg. 222 – 223. This is an alternative reading of this verse. Most translations include a singular pronoun (“he”) to this verse, which, historically, has led to an individualized reading of this verse. In other words, most translations read “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” The singular pronoun (“he”) is, however, a later addition.