The Bible has a lot to say about reconciliation. Christians, for example, are called to be ambassadors for reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18–20). Now, a scientific study is affirming what the Bible has taught for thousands of years.1 Three researchers, through a nongovernmental organization in Sierra Leone, conducted a three-year study on residents in 200 Sierra Leone villages. The aim of the study was to help residents recover from the psychological damage of a 12-year civil war.
Reconciliation Can Yield Social Benefits
This civil war (which occurred from 1991 to 2002) was different from most in the past century in that it had little to do with ethnic differences. The war was predominantly fought over the illicit diamond trade. Nevertheless, more than 50,000 people were killed, thousands more were raped, and 65 percent of the population was displaced. The protracted conflict involved torture, atrocities, and war crimes.
In each village where horrific suffering had occurred, the study brought together the victims and the perpetrators of the war atrocities. In these meetings, the victims described their suffering and the perpetrators confessed their war crimes. The researchers discovered that the more truthful encounters resulted in greater social benefits, where individuals were more likely to forgive the perpetrators, engage in larger social networks, and contribute time and money to public goods and welfare projects.
These social benefits affirm the motto of the California Institute of Technology taken from John 8:32, “The truth shall make you free.” Honest confessions set people in those Sierra Leone villages free to forgive one another and to personally invest in the rebuilding of their communities and social networks. However, failure to practice the rest of John 8:31–32 and other Bible passages addressing reconciliation led to significant social costs on behalf of the villagers engaged in the study.
Reconciliation Can Also Yield Negative Psychological Effects
In nearly all instances there was a measurable worsening in anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress experienced by some of the villagers. Furthermore, these symptoms remained throughout the three-year study. The authors concluded, “Our findings suggest that policy-makers need to restructure reconciliation processes in ways that reduce their negative psychological costs while retaining their positive societal benefits.”2
The authors also commented briefly on how the negative psychological costs could be reduced. They noted that in each village there were individuals who chose not to testify of the atrocities they committed or experienced. Such omissions left huge holes in the extent of the reconciliation. They also drew an analogy between single-session versus multiple-session therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. They cite multiple research studies showing the long-lasting effectiveness of the latter and the fleeting benefits of the former. Likewise, the fact that the reconciliation meetings in the villages tended to be one-time affairs likely explains why the negative psychological effects persisted.
Reconciliation Needs Christ to be Long-Lasting
Bible passages such as Galatians 5 and 6 and Philippians 2 teach that humility, forbearance, compassion, and a serving spirit are disciplines that must be continually practiced for peace and reconciliation to have any degree of permanency. However, these disciplines can become a way of life only if human beings first submit themselves to their Creator. For the truth to truly set humans free, the entirety of John 8:31–32 must be applied: “If you hold to my teaching [Jesus Christ’s], you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Subjects: Christian Life, Ethics, War
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About The Author

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.

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