Do forgiveness and reconciliation mean that a relationship must return to its previous level of intimacy?
This question probably betrays more of our contemporary notions about friendship than it exposes specific aspects of forgiveness and reconciliation. Any culture that has generated the term “frenemy” has betrayed its confusion about relationships.
Some argue that the only true reconciliation is ‘full’ reconciliation where a relationship is restored to exactly the same intimacy and character that it had before the offense. Others take the other side and counsel that if the hurt is too deep you can cut off all contact without remorse. As usual, wisdom is somewhere in the middle.
Forgiveness is the release of an offense against someone. Reconciliation means the end of hostilities. Neither concept really speaks to the matter of the ‘depth’ of the relationship we have with someone. Scripture calls us to live at peace with people. While it is certainly desirable and even attainable to regain the former level of intimacy after offense in marriages, families and with close friends, this can often take considerable time. Further, there are clearly situations where the hurts will be deep enough or the offenses grave enough that the delicate web of affinities and intimacy that once made up the friendship will be irrevocably lost even if forgiveness is offered and received. If this is the case, it is certainly a fact to be mourned but not necessarily one to harbor guilt over.
What is important is that we not limit the level of restoration that we believe God can bring. I have seen marriages restored after infidelity and families restored after years of strife. If God can reconcile the world to himself through the cross and resurrection of Christ, then there is no limit to the level of reconciliation he can bring between two people.