Is forgiveness and reconciliation the same thing? What needs to happen for forgiveness to occur? What needs to happen for reconciliation to take place?
Reconciliation is a process which involves several distinct phases, not necessarily in this order:
So, in my view, forgiveness is a part of an overall process of reconciliation.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
In general terms, first we experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, which leads us to repentance. With a repentant heart we confess our sins one to another (or to a priest or minister, if that's your persuasion). We then receive forgiveness and instruction on how to make restitution, as appropriate to the wrong doing (if our confessor is doing his job).
With God in regards to sin, forgiveness is dependent on true repentance (and, if you are Catholic or similar, confession to a priest).
Between people, specifically as regards interpersonal relationships, it is possible to forgive but never be reconciled with the other person - if the other person does not repent, there may be no reconciliation. It is also possible to make restitution with or without forgiveness and never be reconciled because of personal hurts.
It seems to me that until there's actual interpersonal reconciliation, and the whole process has occurred, that sin still remains for one or other party or both. Though wounds are covered with a band-aid - they still remain unhealed, eventually to get infected and fester.
Allowance should be made for when reconciliation is not possible, such as when one party has died.
Some definitions of "forgiveness" from the web:
- the act of excusing a mistake or offense
- stop blaming or grant forgiveness; "I forgave him his infidelity"; "She cannot forgive him for forgetting her birthday"
- absolve from payment; "I forgive you your debt"
- To pardon, to waive any negative feeling or desire for punishment; To accord forgiveness
Definitions of "reconciliation"
- The restoration of friendly relations
- A process that encourages opposing groups to talk to each other again after an argument and settle their differences
Forgiveness can be extended by one person even if the other person does not choose to forgive. Reconciliation can only happen if both parties act. We are required to forgive offences, and do our best to reconcile, but if the other party decides not to reconcile, it will not happen.
The Bible acknowledges this and we are instructed: Rom 12:18 NIV If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Forgiveness is a stage of reconciliation.
To explain this, let's think of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) organized in part by Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Reconciliation is a process that can only begin with knowing the need for truth. 1 John 1 says "if we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."
The TRC invited people guilty of crimes in the apartheid era to come forward. Some did.
Reconciliation then proceeds with the one who hopes for reconciliation speaking the truth. Carrying on with 1 John: "But if we confess our sin..." People who appeared at TRC tribunals described their crimes with as much detail as they could, often in the presence of their victims or the survivors.
The next step is forgiveness. 1 John: "...God who is faithful and just forgives our sin..." At the TRC, the crimes described were forgiven. The South African government actually forgave the crimes confessed, and waived the right to prosecute them. But they did not forgive crimes that remained concealed.
The final step is a return to wholeness: 1 John: "... and frees us from all unrighteousness." This last one can be very difficult. The lives of murdered people cannot be restored. The personal equanimity of rape victims is extremely hard to restore. The sense of guilt carried by perpetrators is likely to be lifelong. Sometimes freedom from unrighteousness calls for restitution and other forms of penance.
Summary: forgiveness is a vital part of reconciliation, but not the only part.
(Note: This answer is given from the perspective of the Christian teachings and Bible interpretations of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), and of the denominations that follow his teachings. It is extracted and slightly edited from my article, "Repentance: The Unpopular Partner of Forgiveness." For a fuller version, please follow the link to the article.)
Forgiveness alone does not heal a relationship
Forgiveness by itself cannot make things all better again.
It is good for Christians, and for people of other faiths as well, to make it a practice to forgive anyone and everyone who has caused harm. It is not good for our spirit to be carrying the baggage of all sorts of past wrongs. It is better to make peace with our past so that we can have joy in the present and the future.
However, just because we have forgiven someone, that does not mean we will then open our arms to them and re-enter into a close and friendly relationship. As Christians, we must make an effort to follow all of Christ's teachings, not only the "nice" parts about love and forgiveness. (I'm not saying we will always succeed!)
Here is another one of Christ's teachings:
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
The "innocent as doves" part is about forgiving others and not doing anything that would harm them.
The "shrewd as snakes" part is about being smart, not naïve, in the way we deal with people who would take advantage of us and harm us if they could.
Forgiveness by itself will not heal relationships with people who are not sorry for what they have done. No matter how much we may forgive them for what they have done, if they are not sorry--in other words, if they have not repented from their evil and destructive actions--they will keep right on hurting us and violating our trust, thus destroying the relationship.
It is not Christian to allow and enable others to keep on doing evil, destructive things. Evil is evil because it hurts people. And it is not Christian to stand by and do nothing while people (including ourselves) get hurt.
Repentance: the other side of forgiveness
Here are two key points about forgiveness:
- Forgiveness primarily benefits the one doing the forgiving.
- Forgiveness by itself heals only the person doing the forgiving.
Yes, forgiveness is necessary for the relationship to be healed. If we do not forgive those who have harmed us, we will not allow them back into relationship with us. But forgiveness is only one half of the healing process. And if only half of the relationship is healed, then the relationship itself is not healed.
For a relationship to be healed after one side has harmed the other, not one, but two things must happen:
- The one who was harmed must forgive the one who did the harm.
- The one who did the harm must repent from the harm done.
In other words, healing a relationship is a two-way street. Yes, forgiveness must flow in one direction. But repentance must also flow in the other direction.
If the one who harmed the other is not sorry, and does not commit to changing his or her wrong behavior, then the one who was harmed can never trust the other again. And without trust, there can be no healthy and sound relationship.
What exactly is repentance, and how do we do it? That is a huge subject!
For now, I'll leave you with this:
Repentance: the short version
In the Gospels, the Greek word for "repentance" is metanoia, which means "an afterthought, a change of mind upon reflection." In Biblical terms, repentance means re-thinking the wrong ways we've been thinking, feeling, and acting, and changing them.
Repentance is being sorry for what we've done. But "being sorry" is not just saying we're sorry. As nice as it is to apologize to those we've hurt, we must also change our attitudes and our behavior. If we turn around and do the same wrong and hurtful things all over again, are we really sorry? Our actions show that we are not.
And while we're at it, a real apology is not saying that we're sorry that the other person got hurt. We can say we're sorry the other person got hurt without admitting that we did anything wrong. A real apology is saying that we're sorry for the wrong things we ourselves said and did that hurt the other person.
Being truly sorry means changing the way we think, feel, and act so that we no longer do the wrong and harmful things that we used to do. That is repentance. For a practical guide on how to do this, I invite you to read my article,"What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?"
Yes, repentance is the inseparable partner of forgiveness.
That is why in the Bible, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus' disciples all preached "repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (See Mark 1:4; Luke 17:1–4; 24:44–48; Acts 2:38; 5:29–32.)
What is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?
Forgiveness is something of which you have control, something you may or may not choose to do. To forgive is not dependent upon anyone else, but forgiving rests sole on the person who was wronged. Forgiveness is free and need not be asked to impart forgiveness upon the person who has wronged.Forgiveness is a prerequisite for reconciliation, but reconciliation will not necessarily take place.
In reconciliation, forgiveness took place, for whithout forgiveness, there can be no reconciliation. In reconciliation, it is the choice and work of the two persons.
In reconciliation, there is evidence that forgiveness took place. In forgiveness, on the act of one alone, reconciliation is not guarante Forgiveness is a choice.