Forgive versus reconcile: is there a difference?

A Tebow-like character has emerged in the NBA, the US professional men’s basketball association. Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere in February to play as point guard for the New York Knicks. The team had lost several games in a row, and it looked like they would not make the playoffs. Lin, who was sleeping on his brother’s couch in Manhattan, led the Knicks to win the next six games, and he starred in most of those games. He quickly became the talk of New York. Jeremy is the NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Tawain descent. He is charging up Asian fans worldwide.

The 23-year-old is averaging 14 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds per game, which is awfully good. In Toronto, some 75 reporters packed a morning press conference to hear Lin speak, with dozens more turned away. More than 25 Chinese Canadian journalists were due to cover the game up there, including one who presented Lin with a book of “Year of the Dragon” stamps from Canada, and asked him to record a message in Mandarin which he did.

You could not have picked a more unlikely hero. No-one recruited Lin out of high school, and no-one drafted him out of college (he has a degree from Harvard). What makes Lin interesting as a person is that he has deep religious convictions, a gracious and humble personality, and prefers to talk about the team rather than himself….sound familiar?

This became very clear* after Anthony Federico posted a headline in a website “A Chink in the Armor”, and was promptly fired by ESPN for his insensitivity. A month or so later, Lin’s family arranged for Lin to meet Federico for lunch.

“The fact that he reached out to me”, Federico said, “And the fact that he took the time to meet with me in his insanely busy schedule. … Lin’s just a wonderful, humble person. He didn’t have to do that…. We talked about matters of faith and reconciliation. Also, we talked about our shared Christian values and what we’re both trying to do with this situation”.

This is called reconciliation, which is not to be confused with forgiveness. In my opinion, forgiveness is vertical while reconciliation is horizontal. As Christians, we are commanded to forgive the person who has wronged us, essentially because we are forgiven by God, and we need to pass it on for our mental health. To reconcile is different, for it means to make up with that other person. But if the other party will not make up, we cannot reconcile. Or we may decide we do not want to reconcile, because we choose not to associate with that person (and that’s okay).

This is an important distinction. Because if we think we have to reconcile to forgive, we could forever be unsure whether we have properly forgiven that person. Forgiveness is vertical and involves God. Reconciliation is horizontal and involves another person. We may desire to reconcile, and try to do so, but if it doesn’t happen it’s tremendously liberating to know we can forgive without having to reconcile. Jeremy Lin reconciled with Anthony Federico over lunch, and I would guess that was a mighty relief for Federico. I would also guess that Lin had forgiven Federico long before that soup-and-salad lunchtime chat.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven [left and let go the debts, and given up resentment against] our debtors…..For if you forgive people their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew chapter 6, Amplified Bible).

* “Lin has lunch with fired ESPN employee”. on 28 March 2012. Courtesy of FOXsports .com

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The Gray Nomad.
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11 comments on “Forgive versus reconcile: is there a difference?”

  1. Leigh Ann says:

    Wonderful perception! Forgiveness and reconciliation are often on my mind. So few people are willing to forgive and repair a relationship anymore.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Thanks for your comment. Why do you suppose that is Leigh Ann, that people don’t forgive/reconcile so much?

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  6. ALISON says:

    I believe there cannot be a genuine reconciliation and peace of mind without forgiveness, given to the other person and accepted from God. It may be a battle to accept the turning away of a loved one, but it can and will happen with perseverance, knowing God is always close and that we have his forgiveness. Having experienced this situation I can only say – it does work – it may take time – just trust Him.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Alison, your words come from your own tough experience, and from your heart. They carry the truth, and cannot be improved upon. Thank you for sharing.


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