Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In Forgiving, be Reconciled...

There is a brilliant oil painting showing two American soldiers trapped in the heat of a conflict during the First World War. It is obvious they are under fire. The battle is raging over and around them, but they are isolated – just the two of them in what looks like enemy territory – a very long way away from all that is familiar and safe. No other American or Allied comrades can be seen. In short, their emotional and physical plight is desperate.

Central to the picture is some kind of primitive radio device – a heavy box-set encased in battered tin. The soldiers are frantically trying to send a message to their comrades – an SOS – but before they can radio for help, a crucial wiring connection has to be made. The radio has been damaged, but if the soldiers can manage to physically connect one piece of broken wire with another, they might just succeed. The tense drama of the painting hinges on one embattled soldier holding up a thin piece of wire to his comrade.

This scenario plays itself out time and time again within The Salvation Army, decades after the struggle depicted by the artist. How many reading this will quickly identify with the men in the painting? Battle-scarred, perhaps? Isolated? Casualties of war, bearing scars that have, sometimes, gone deep? Reaching out with an SOS when it seems there is no-one to help or come to the rescue? 
Does any of this sound familiar? In the white heat of battle, some fall by the wayside, some are injured, some are hurt, and some just can’t carry on. Regimental loyalties and ties might still be intact, or they might be in tatters. People who have fought well can fight no longer.

Emotional trauma, too, takes place – the stigma frequently attached to resignation, or the painfully inevitable gossip and rumour surrounding the termination of an officer’s commission. The immense psychological hardship of leaving officership and stepping out onto what can be a cold and lonely pathway full of insecurities and difficulties becomes a daily reality. Problems can often be compounded by what feels like rejection from some former colleagues. The pain can be awful.

However, into that theatre of war, somewhat like the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in England rising from the ruins of the Blitz in the Second World War, as a striking symbol of restoration of that which is badly damaged, emerges the thorny issue of reconciliation one with another.

Reconciliation – the declaration of peace – with those who have inflicted injury, whether knowingly or inadvertently, is a non-negotiable (I’m afraid to say). A leader, say, whose love was startlingly absent when it was needed most of all, or a colleague, for example, who turned his or her back on a comrade who was frantically appealing for a helping hand; those who forgot to visit or even pick up the telephone.

The love of God, the grace of Christ, gently demands reconciliation – or, at least (to begin with), the first considerations of forgiveness and the cessation of hostilities. Those who minister in the name of Jesus, that great Reconciler, whether as officers or former officers, are left with little option but to demonstrate, by example and practice, the power of reconciliation.

Oh, I do not say it’s easy. I certainly do not pretend or imagine reconciliation can be achieved in an instant. I say nothing glibly, and I certainly do not judge. Being left isolated (unwanted?) on the battlefield is horrible, but, still, it behooves those of us who name Christ as Captain to pursue reconciliation wherever relationships are shot through. However sore the emotions, that standard still flutters across the field of battle.
 Oh, it might take months, or years, or decades, and we may never even meet with the people in question again – those we feel have wronged us. We may never even speak to them again (through circumstance, not by design), but we are dealing here with a reconciliation of the heart, if such is necessary – the type of reconciliation that is noted in Heaven.

Just as we each have failed others sometimes, so we need to pray for enormous grace, asking the Lord to help us forgive and, in forgiving, be reconciled. Oh, it might be wire-thin at times; as wire-thin, dare I suggest, as Jesus’ voice on the cross, hoarsely whispering forgiveness, but of such is the Kingdom.

Even if, this Christmas, or even next, we cannot even manage to put our petitions into words and hopes of heart-reconciliation remain just hopes, may I gently and humbly offer these words (strong favourites of mine) from Sir David Goodall, former British High Commissioner to India: ‘At least I can show him [God] the conflict; perhaps if I cannot bring myself to ask him to change my will, I can at least tell him that I would like to want to ask him to do so – but just cannot’.

Stephen Poxon
Former Officer


Terry Hudson said...

Thanks, Stephen.

Thoughtful words. The Christian response is rarely the easy option.

But it is always better to be 'loving' than to be 'right'.


Former UK

Anonymous said...

I wanted to take the time to commend the FSAOF for continually raising the bar. The series on Reconciliation is excellent, and that said with yet another 11 articles yet to be posted. I'm a Pastor and also a regular visitor.

Your blog, while perhaps focused in large part on former SA pastors, speaks directly to many of us who serve in the ministry. I pray that the Salvation Army will keep a close eye on all of you. The depth of vision represented is representative of the type servant hearts needed in every denomination, and if your leaders don't move quickly to reconcile with you, our church can offer immediate entry!

Pastorate Office
Major USA Protestant Church, Atlanta

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is extremely generous promise of hope- to offer immediate entry into your denomination without knowing any 'story' behind a resignation or termination?

Do I hear correctly?

Anonymous said...

Stephen, absolutely gutted to learn of your resignation! You really will be a loss to the Army. Praying God's richest blessing upon you and your family especially during these days of change and possible uncertainty. Thanking God for you and asking Him to bless, keep and use you!

Active UKT

Anonymous said...

Stephen, thank you for the heat felt, challenging and encouraging words you have shared here. Please be assured of our continued love, thoughts and prayers for you, Heather and your children. Hope we will hear from you many times on here. Keep in touch.

GBY real good!
with love
Glad x

Glad Ljungholm
Active UKT

Anonymous said...

wonders what sort of church would allow immediate entry without knowing anything of someone's history is this as a minister?

Interested UKT

Terry Hudson said...

Interested UK - I can't promise 'immediate entry', but if you'd like to explore ministry in the Methodist Church in the UK, let me know ;)


Former UK

Anonymous said...

Wow: do you never change? The guy, perhaps somewhat excitably having read some good sense in an article or so is impressed and would be happy to have good quality people in his Church.

So you jump on him and stick the boot in. Good old Army?

I well imagine that anyone wanting to join his church would need to be within the parameters of its belief system and show commitment to its cause.

Talk about biting the proffered hand of friendship!!!!!

Old Hornblower

Anonymous said...

Stephen: Excellent illustrations. Very poignant. I, too, hope you will continue to write for the blog here. Many blessings.

Former SA Officer,
Can. & Bermuda

Howard Webber said...

Stephen: I just heard of your resignation and don't know any other way to contact you to wish you and Heather and your dear family every blessing, and to thank you for all your personal kindness to me. The transition will not be easy, but may you discover exactly where God wishes you to be.
Howard Webber
Retired UKT