What is the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing the word, “conflict”? An epic battle, perhaps, with clanking swords and a blood bath shaming the ancient Nile? Maybe you envision heated debates, grand-scale media campaigns and outrageous political slander.
Whatever the resulting drama, all conflict begins as a tiny seed; a harmless disagreement between two or more parties. Disagreements could be based on anything from ideology to demographics to personality clashes or even mere misunderstanding. Placed in conducive conditions, however, that cute seed may become the stuff of nightmares and all but impossible to eradicate.
So, who is to blame?
If we were honest, we would concede that each and every one of us has, at some point, played a pivotal part in creating – and even sustaining – conflict. For whatever reason the disagreement sprung into being, we took that little seed and planted it squarely at our feet. We then watered it with self-justification and allowed the sprout to bask in the glow of personal pride. Eventually, flourishing tendrils wrapped around our legs, and we found ourselves staring down the putrid maw of a Venus flytrap.
Before I leave you irreparably traumatized (and possibly give away my age), allow me to paint a more hopeful picture. Even once seeds of conflict have been sown, they may yet be nipped in the bud, so to speak. As with all pruning, though, some sacrifice is required: in this case, sacrificing self. Before amends can be made, it is imperative that we admit our part in wrongdoing to ourselves. Asking for forgiveness and praying for renewal without uprooting the desire to be right, is as effective as weeding a garden by mowing the lawn: eventually those little pests will be back to bite us in the proverbial rump.
Is this a new idea? Of course not: admitting that one actually has a problem is the basis for all 12-step interventions. The Bible leads us back even further in Job 9:20:
If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.
In an 1860 sermon, “A Blow at Self-Righteousness”, Charles Spurgeon gives us a fitting example of humankind’s first attempts at avoiding responsibility:
It was but a fig leaf he could find to cover his nakedness, but how proud was he of that fig-leaf excuse, and how tenaciously did he hold to it.
Great-grandpa Adam was not the last person to use one plant to fix the problems of another: through the ages, we have allowed monstrous vines to grow out of initial seeds of disagreement. King Solomon acknowledges the initial role of pride in our downfall in Proverbs 16:18. Through chapters 5 and 6 of Leviticus, the Israelites were instructed to confess their sins before bothering about animal sacrifices – why? Surely the omniscient God already knew the intimate details of their sins, so why the need for confession? Several translations of this verse (other than the KJV) mention the word “realize”: we need to realize our sins; they must become apparent to us who have committed them. Confession makes us aware of our need for salvation. Once that is taken care of, God is more than willing to help us with the weeding in our lives (Isaiah 1:18):
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
“but it wasn’t my fault!”
A valid point deserves a valid response, and, yet again, the Bible is ready with one. In Matthew 18:15-17, 21-35, Jesus not only outlines a very practical way of undertaking conflict resolution, but quickly follows with a discourse on mercy and forgiveness – as well as a hint at our own hypocrisy in dealing with problematic persons. Furthermore, James 5:16 encourages social support networks as channels of healing.
Initially, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it is a perfect opportunity for introspection – a social popping of the hood, if you will. Check for faulty interpretations, ulterior motives or a leaky source of pride. If none of these items require further servicing, you may, at the very least, have learned to look at a topic from a different perspective.
Regardless of the origin of conflict, persistence thereof is to be avoided. In His beatitudes, Jesus blesses peacemakers and points them out as children of God (Matthew 5:9).
In light of this…
five biblical tips for effective reconciliation:
- Let God guide (Proverbs 3:5-6)
- Pick your battles wisely (Proverbs 11:12; 25:8)
- Listen to understand, not to respond (Proverbs 18:2)
- Check your facts (Proverbs 18:13)
- Leave the past in the past (Proverbs 17:9)
If all else is forgotten, keep this in mind: dealing with conflict is not simply about winning arguments, but about restoring relationships. “Come now, and let us reason together…” The uncertainty of a global pandemic and the frustration of national lockdown are breeding grounds for choking attitudes. Let’s turn our swords into plowshares and start digging up those weeds!
Written by Lynne Birkenstock