Have you ever noticed how much of our culture’s music, and literature, and cinema revolves around the issue of reconciliation or potential reconciliation?
That word, reconciliation, is an important word. It is a derivative of a Latin word which means a bringing together of parties that had been alienated or separated.
The Beatles made a musical career out of the subject. Early on, it was “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which illuminates what is perhaps the most common human symbol for reconciliation—the holding of hands.
Then came songs like “Help:”
When I was younger so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now those days are gone and I’m not so self-assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.
Opened up the doors to what? Reconciliation, of course—the condition of being rejoined to those human souls from whom we have allowed ourselves become alienated.
Or how about “Yesterday:”
Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say
I said, something wrong, now I long for yesterday
What is that song but a nostalgic yearning to be reconciled—specifically, a yeaning to be reconciled to a past from which the singer feels strangely alienated. Am I pushing it too far when I say that the yearning of “Yesterday” is a yearning for that “long and winding road that leads to your door?” And what is behind that door? The most important thing of all: reconciliation with a loved one.
The Beatles, you see, made a musical career out of the subjects of reconciliation and potential reconciliation. But they are not alone in that regard. Artists have been addressing the issue of reconciliation for a long time.
Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” has survived the test of time because of the way in which it makes possible a reconciliation of two lovers and then distorts that reconciliation through a tragic miscommunication and misunderstanding. Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” focuses on the painful absence of reconciliation between the races and the social classes. The entire “Star Wars” narrative is built upon Anakin Skywalker’s journey toward reconciliation with his true self and Luke Skywalker’s desperation to be reconciled to his wayward father. And do we really believe that “Titanic” would have made nearly 2 billion dollars worldwide if it had only been a movie about a sinking ship?! What made the movie so compelling to watch was the relationship between Jack and Rose and the way in which that relationship moved from awkwardness to love to alienation to reconciliation.
The themes of reconciliation and potential reconciliation seem to be somewhere close to the heart of human artistic expression, and one might ask why that is. Why is it that the themes of reconciliation and potential reconciliation are so vastly prevalent in our music and in our literature and in our cinema? I’m not sure I have a definitive answer to that question, but I do have a hunch. My hunch is that the themes of reconciliation and potential reconciliation are as popular as they are because all of us have a sense that we are living in some kind of an alienated condition.
We might not describe it that way very often. We might not even know the right words with which to articulate it. But my hunch is that every single one of us, somewhere in the depths of our soul, has a sense that we are living in an alienated condition—a condition in which we are somehow separated from something or someone important. In the midst of that condition, all of us are somehow yearning for reconciliation. We are yearning, in other words, to be brought back together with that important person or thing from whom or from which we are separated.
As a result, when we encounter the theme of reconciliation or potential reconciliation in a song or in a book or in a movie, it seems perfectly natural to us. Because all of us, in one way or another, are alienated from something or someone and are yearning for the kind of reconciliation that will bring us back home so that we might be in right relationship with the person or thing from whom or from which we are separated.
In his letter to the Roman church, Paul addresses what must surely be considered the separation that undergirds all other separations and the alienation that undergirds all other alienations. I am speaking, of course, of humankind’s alienation from God, and humankind’s separation from right relationship with God, both of which are resultant of the reality of human sin and relentless rebellion against God’s design:
For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)
It is indeed compelling that Paul, in his eagerness to emphasize the severity of our alienation from God, does not hesitate to use the imagery of two adversarial parties—“enemies,” in fact. It is Paul’s stark reminder to us that, because of our sin and our fondness for it, we find ourselves on the wrong side of a spiritual chasm that we, on our own, are not able to bridge.
The good news—no, the remarkable news—that we are given in this scripture, is that God, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has provided the means of reconciliation that we could not provide. The language of Scripture is this: while we were enemies (in other words, God didn’t wait until we had our act together), we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.
Please do not count on me to explain all of this to you in scientific detail. I can’t. God’s methodology concerning the cross travels well beyond the boundaries of my comprehension. But, somehow—and, by the way, I have become greatly enamored of that word “somehow” in my own personal theology of the cross—SOMEHOW, when Christ suffered and died on the cross, God was mystically and redemptively at work in that happening, transforming it into an occasion of radical reconciliation between a perfectly holy God and an alienated humankind. SOMEHOW, because Jesus was who he was, he gathered into himself on the cross everything that was keeping us away from God, thereby delivering us from the burden of sin; thereby incarnating for us the unfathomable love of God; and thereby making possible the reconciled relationship with God that we, on our own merits, could never generate.
When Paul tells us that “we have been reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” he is placing before us a concept that, in many ways, serves as a theological common denominator in atonement theology. No matter what theory of the atonement we embrace, we ultimately find ourselves bumping up against the biblical truth of a God who stubbornly refuses to allow the reality of sin to separate us from a relationship with the One who breathed life into our lungs, the One who will settle for nothing less than intimacy with us.
On this Good Friday, I am meditating upon the cross and the reconciliation that it represents. As I look upon the cross, I cannot help but think of the God that it reveals to us: A God who traveled “the long and winding road” to human flesh in order to bring to humankind the radical “help” that we so desperately needed, thereby communicating to us how deeply he wants to hold our hand and how abundantly he wants to restore us to the “yesterday” of a reconciled relationship.