Reconciliation in Suffering
But the reconciliation that Jesus offers is not as distant from reconciling ourselves to the mixture of pain and joy in the world as we may at first think. Nailed to a cross, in the midst of his execution, he said "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34). He reconciled himself to his executioners though they had not repented of what they had done, though he had received no recompense for his suffering at their hands. He found the joy of reconciliation while yet in pain.
Jesus' reconciliation to his enemies did not require either their repentance or his heavenly reward. It happened in the midst of his suffering. That infinite, divine reconciliation ought to be our model of the reconciliation for which we aim both now and in the future. If we have taken Jesus' name on ourselves, we owe it to him and to our Christian covenant to identify ourselves with him to learn to be reconciled as he was, not after the fact of suffering but in it.
That does not mean allowing criminals to go free, refusing to hold them accountable for their crimes. It means, though, not allowing the need for justice to overcome the demand for reconciliation. Justice is an appropriate part of reconciliation, but we cannot refuse reconciliation because we are not yet satisfied that justice has been done. If vengeance is the Lord's and not ours (Dt. 32:5), then our demand for justice cannot be confused with a demand for vengeance. And when it is not, then it is compatible with reconciliation.
The Christian message is that reconciliation is possible, both now and, ultimately, in the presence of God. Jesus taught us that reconciliation does not mean the end of all pain, but the reconciliation of our pain with our love for others. That is certainly true in this life. Perhaps it is also true in the next. The promise is that families as narrow as a couple or as wide as the human race can be reconciled in their pain.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.