The older we get, the more broken relationships there will be in our wake. It starts as children when we are best friends forever with the person sitting next to us… until we get to a new class the next year. The relationship is broken.
Of course, it gets a lot more serious as you get older. We have real fights. Real heartbreak. Real division. Not only that, but our circumstances are nearly constantly in flux as we move from this career to that one, one life stage to another. Relationships are broken by sin, but they’re also broken by distance. So what does the gospel say to broken relationships, especially those that have been broken by some fight or argument between people? At least three things:
1. Be a bridge, not a barrier.
The gospel is about tearing down walls, not building them up. Paul reminded us in Ephesians 2 that the gospel tears down walls. Through His death and resurrection, Christ has not only torn down the dividing wall of sin between humanity and God, He has also removed the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. When we find ourselves in a broken relationship, it’s helpful for us to remind ourselves that the gospel removes all kinds of walls. True enough, our wall might not be racial or economical, but the gospel tears down every other wall too. The wall of hurt feelings. The wall of mistreatment. The wall of resentment. The wall of bitterness. These are all torn down by the gospel. We can live in freedom with others because these walls have been torn down. We would do well in our relationships to not build up that which Jesus has torn down, and instead be a bridge through our forgiveness and reconciliation. Rather than building up more barriers, we can illustrate the kind of reconciliation that Jesus brings by the way we pursue reconciliation with others.
2. You always have something to apologize for.
I have been around myself for around 38 years, and if I’ve learned one thing during that time it’s that my heart is constantly divided. It’s divided between good and evil; sacrifice and self-indulgence; justice and entitlement; being right and being validated. And if it’s true that, in every argument, I always bring that divided heart with me into the debate, then I always have something to apologize for. Even if I’m right. At the very least, I have no doubt abandoned the purity of the truth in favor of my own selfish need to be right. So regardless of how much I’ve been hurt or how sure I am of my standing, I at some point have fed my own ego. The gospel reminds me that even if I’m on the right side, I still have something that I can apologize for. And because I am aware of my own sin, I can freely own my part in the ruptured relationship without worrying about how doing so will compromise my position in the argument.
3. Do what you can and continue forward in faith.
I do not believe that every broken relationship will be reconciled this side of heaven. Sometimes the hurt is too deep; the betrayal too great. Or it might be more practical than that – you move, or they move, or some other circumstance changes and there is never any putting back together that which is broken. The gospel doesn’t say that we have to be in intimate relationship with everyone, but it does compel us to do what we can to set things right once and for all. That might mean either asking for or giving forgiveness, and both of those things can be done without reciprocation from the other party. If that happens, then the gospel reminds us that our self-worth and value is not dependent on the response of another. We can move on in freedom, knowing we have done all we can.
The gospel has a lot to say about relationships – even broken ones. For in all relationships, we are compelled by love to extend to others the same grace, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion that we have received from God in Christ. So if we are having trouble doing so in a particular relationships, maybe the most constructive thing we can do is go back and remember the greatness of what God has already done for us. Anything we do for another will pale in comparison.