Continuing the thought from the last entry:
By God's grace, you are not me. I have my own baggage, my own strengths, my own sins, and you have yours. You own yours and I own mine, and perhaps we can live in relationship. If we don't own our own stuff, relationships cannot happen because they are just chaos. I become just a projection of your inner garbage, and you are just a tool I use for my own ends. This need for appropriate boundaries is true in any relationship, whether we're talking about friendship or marriage or about a relationship with God. And sometimes in the wisdom of God the separation needs to be greater. The sun cannot come into contact with the earth, or life on this planet would end. That relationship has to be distant. The polar ice caps cannot rub up against the tropical seashore, or both will be destroyed. It's just part of the order of a diverse creation.
In some human relationships, too, we recognize that it is wiser to maintain a distance. Occasionally I will talk with someone who has been deeply wounded, and they struggle to forgive the one who wounded them. They somehow believe that if they forgive that person, they have to open themselves again to that relationship in a way that may well put them at risk to be wounded all over again. Sometimes that is necessary and appropriate -- but often forgiveness means letting go of the hurt, and letting go of the desire for vengeance, and then living at an appropriate distance.
So what does "reconciliation" mean? Paul says it best in Ephesians 2:
"13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints ..."
First of all, reconciliation does not change the fact that we are separate. But it introduces a relationship where before there was only a "dividing wall of hostility." Paul is first speaking here to the separation between Jews and Gentiles and all the rules the Jews had developed to create a chasm of separation between the two. Paul is not saying that from here on out there will be no such thing as Jews and Gentiles -- but rather that what they have in common is greater than what separates them, namely that all together are restored to relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We can extrapolate this to other separations in our world. When we are alienated from an individual, or when we isolate and insulate ourselves from a group of people (the poor, for example, or AIDS victims, or people of another race or culture), the blood of Christ brings us together on common ground at the foot of the cross. What we have in common -- our dependence on God's grace at the cross -- is greater than what separates us, and makes relationship possible. (Notice also that reconciliation is not just about you and me, but about being ushered into a wider community. But that's fodder for another post.)
When we begin to grasp this idea that God has created difference, that God has created separation, we begin to delight in it. This distinction is part of the goodness of creation, and we get in trouble when we blur the categories. When I recognize that I am different from another person, I can begin to value their unique perspectives and learn from the things they do or believe that are different. It doesn't mean that I should give up what I do or believe. Instead, I can learn from them and value them for who they are.
This has huge implications for how Jesus' followers live in the world. We do not discard the world, but we also don't give in and become like the world. This is the world, after all, that "God so loved" that Jesus came to build a relationship, to make reconciliation possible.