A boyfriend completely forgets his girlfriend’s birthday and goes out with his mates for a drink instead. It’s not the first time he has let her down. She decides to break off with him. At the time he expresses sorrow, buys her flowers, chocolates and concert tickets but she sees through the remorse, this isn’t true repentance.
A few years later, he has worked through the issues in his life. He has been challenged by God’s word and come to a place of genuine repentance. He goes to find her and honestly fesses up to the horrendous way he had treated her. He now expresses genuine repentance and says that if there is any way he could make it up to her then he would. She says that he is completely forgiven, that she bears no animosity towards him and that the apology is enough. They hug and then go their separate ways.
So, now she has to start dating him again right? After all, forgiveness should need to reconciliation and restoration. The repentance is genuine, so what is holding them back? I think you would consider me a bit of an idiot if I insisted on that. You would say to me that both have no doubt moved on in their lives and their circumstances will have changed. They may even have even got married already to someone else.
It’s of course a bit of a silly example but the point is this. It should be obvious to us that restoration and reconciliation will not always mean a return to the same relationship as was enjoyed before. Even without sin and hurt, relationships move on and evolve.
This is important because it helps us to understand a bit more about what happens when people in violent and abusive relationships repent and forgive. We should not expect that this will automatically lead to a return to the past relationship. The abuse victim for example should not be forced to take back their abusive partner into the home. It is appropriate to recognise that there are safe-guarding issues at stake still.
Reconciliation can mean that words of repentance and forgiveness are expressed to one another. It can mean that the person who has been wronged is not seeking any further restitution and that they recognise that the other person if they have put their trust in Christ is a brother in him and so able to find fellowship within a church family somewhere.
But we must not assume that there will be rehabilitation to what once was. Indeed, it is probably worth noting that in terms of the past relationship, it may not have been true in the first place.
Now this may lead to an objection that when God forgives there is full reconciliation to him and restoration to his family. It is worth remembering that there are differences between how God relates, acts forgives and how we do. You see, when God forgives, he works in our lives to change us, he is able to cleanse, more than that, he brings us to new life so that the old is gone. This is something we do not have the power to do. Therefore our forgiveness is finite.
So, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty if you are not acting towards reconciliation in the way that they would expect.