When a relationship isn’t right, underlying stress can flow like lava below the surface. Even though the estranged person isn’t even with you, the tension from the past wounds can still be active. Are there other cracks in your life where the lava can start to seep in? Are those around you now in danger of an unexpected volcanic eruption?
Some wounds between people seem too deep to heal. Wreckage has ruined any hope for a restored relationship. Is there any hope left when efforts made have all returned empty––and even worse, when attempts at peace have instead opened up fresh battlefields of hostility? God is realistic about life in a fallen world. Things are not the way he created them. Sin entered, and everyone experiences its effects on all of our relationships. Some scar tissue is so deep that things will never be smooth and happy between some individuals ever again.
But in spite of that dose of biblical realism, the Bible also has massive encouragement to offer about damaged relationships. If you have a former spouse, an estranged child, a close relative that has become distant, or a friend or neighbor on the other side of a high wall of separation, God has hope for you and for them.
If both you and the estranged person have a heart to please the Lord, God will unleash massive resources to heal both of you and to heal your relationship. You may think that it would take a miracle to restore such a relationship. That is okay; God does miracles. But even if only one of the wounded people is willing to honor the Lord and work toward healing with the other person, there is hope for that person and that relationship.
It sometimes seems like the Apostle Paul had the Christian life completely figured out. He sacrificed everything for Jesus, traveling all over the Roman Empire for the sake of spreading his good news and helping new churches begin. In his spare time, he wrote inspired books of the New Testament. He sang hymns to God as he suffered in jail unjustly. But the Bible is also honest about Paul’s failures.
When Mark deserted Paul and Mark’s cousin Barnabas during their first missionary journey, Paul was keeping notes. When it came time for the second missionary trip, Barnabas was ready to let the past stay in the past and bring Mark along. Paul, however, wanted nothing to do with that idea. While we don’t know all that was going on in Paul’s heart and in his relationships with Barnabas and Mark, the biblical record uses strong words to describe their dispute. “Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:37-40, emphasis added).
This sharp disagreement and separation seems even more severe in relief of the close relationship that Paul and Barnabas had enjoyed for many years. When Paul had a fearful reputation as a Christian-killer, it had been Barnabas who took a chance and reached out to Paul and welcomed the new Christian into the churches of Jerusalem. It had been Barnabas who later searched out Paul and brought him to the church in Antioch for ministry training and involvement. It had been Barnabas who stood side by side with Paul as they risked their lives to proclaim Jesus in utterly pagan lands on that first missionary journey. And now this fight over integrity and forgiveness severed their relationship.
The Bible doesn’t say much more about Barnabas from this time forward, but it does mention Mark. At the end of Paul’s life, while he sat in a cold Roman prison cell, awaiting his execution, Paul wrote a letter requesting for Mark to come and stay with him. Paul affirmed Mark’s usefulness for service.
Offended friends can find forgiveness because of the massive forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Although the wounds are real, deep, and even infected with suffering, the Lord Jesus can heal any wound that sin and suffering produce. Christians are called to: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32). Such human forgiveness seems impossible unless you compare it to the quality and quantity of divine forgiveness received from the Lord.
In addition to the hope the Bible offers that broken relationships can be healed, more hope can be found in following the Bible’s prescriptions for peacemaking. Instead of seeking revenge (even if it is deserved), God commands you to entrust all vengeance to him. As you think about all of the storm-clouds of emotion that often surround damaged relationships, carrying out careful vengeance would be nearly impossible. God wisely removes revenge from consideration. He promises to take care of it with his wisdom and justice.
Instead, God calls his children to kindness. Give your enemy food and drink. Give him or her a blessing instead of a head-bashing. This kind of grace melts hearts. It can melt the bitter heart of the one offended, but it can also melt the heart of the offender. God’s gracious peacemaking goes against sinful human instincts. It seems to open the offended party up to further abuse. Where is the hope in that?
The hope lies in knowing that you have done all that God asks of you. For your relationship to be restored will take a miracle. You do your part, and then trust God to do the miracle. In a fallen world, it may not ever be sorted out. Your relationship may never return to what it once was, but it might. God can do it. God delights in doing miracles of grace. You do your part. Trust in God to do the miracle part. You can always hope in God to do what is best.
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:17-21).