Sin Makes Fighters of us All
As fallen human beings, we like to fight with people who stand in the way of our desires. It’s part of our spiritual DNA, the deep logic of sin-sick souls. The aggressive dominoes fall one by one, I want something. I quickly become convinced that I need it. Needs are important, we feel strongly inclined to demand they be fulfilled and quickly. When people ignore such demands, we judge them as enemies and treat them as combatants. Then, the final step is to punish them. “How dare they stand between me and my needs!” This is the internal logic of all our squabbles: I want. I need. I demand. I judge. I punish. (I am indebted to Ken Sande’s excellent little book, “Peacemaking for Families” for this pithy insight. But you’ll also find it in James 4:1ff, and probably, with me, you all know this as well by bitter, personal experience.
Indeed, this hellish logic is so persuasive, I found myself falling prey to it this morning when my wife came into my study (unannounced and uninvited) to present me with a list of questions and concerns about the children. I wasn’t happy. So I let her know, “Now wasn’t the time!”— not in so many words, you understand. Body language did most of the talking, and with little grace to boot. The funny thing was, I wanted to get back to the book about conflict resolution. Now there’s a conflict of interests if ever there was one!
There are just too many helpful insights from that book to list in one Covenanter article, but one of the most insightful, at least for me, has been Sande’s 4G’s in responding to conflict.
1. Give Glory to God: Whenever conflict raises its ugly head in your home, remember your first priority is to glorify God. Now, you might say for a Presbyterian raised on the Shorter Catechism#1, isn’t that kind of obvious? It’s our chief end after all? True, but it’s often my last thought, especially in conflict. Normally I am much more concerned about keeping the peace, or getting what I want. Glorifying God is not normally my first priority. But it ought to be. How can I respond to this conflict (which is often an opportunity to know myself, to know my neighbor, and to grow in my knowledge of God) in a way that brings God glory. This thought should check our idolatrous desires to get our own way, or to play the coward and keep the peace at all costs. Evil must be confronted where it is found, and whatever the cost. God’s glory is at stake.
2. Get the log out of your own eye. Normally in conflict, we too quickly zero in on the “Other person’s problem.” It’s the 60/40 rule. Sure, I am partly to blame (probably about 40%—nobody’s perfect, after all), but you are 60% of the problem. So, let’s be logical and deal with the biggest part of the problem first! Hmm. That’s not the Christian way. We see better when we see clearer. And seeing clearer means dealing with the log in our own eye before we go rooting around for the speck in our brother or sister’s (Matthew 7:3ff). This will require humility, confession, and candid, particular repentance (more of this in another Covenanter, methinks).
3. Go to Your Brother and Confront their Sin. This is an important step many of us miss out. Either because we are “Peacefakers” (we are frightened of provoking internecine warfare with our nearest and dearest. Safer to let sleeping dogs lie), or because are “Peacebreakers” and we relish a good fight. So while we pride ourselves for our willingness to call a spade a spade (as long as they other people’s spades, you understand), our motives in these ventures are almost entirely selfish. Therefore, invariably, our efforts provoke ungodly conflict, and make things only worse in our households. Confronting someone in their sins requires gentleness, humility, and a close self-watch (Galatians 6:1ff). It also requires a sincere desire to help them towards holiness, and not just to help ourselves towards convenience. (You know the kind of thinking: life would be so much nicer , not to mention easier if you would just stop sinning in this way).
4. Go and be reconciled. Reconciliation is a truly a lovely word and should always be both the fruit of the gospel and of the lives of those who are controlled by it (James 3:18).
As ever the first two steps (in this four step of peacemaking) are the key to successfully navigating our way through to the last. For most of us, I suspect, our unfortunate penchant is to short change the process by ditching the first two steps (or by paying the briefest lip service to them) and starting at step 3 (and with the wrong motives). Make this mistake, and you will find yourself more adept at making war than peace. As ever, the gospel offers a better way, and as with all the best things in life, it beings (and ends) with soli deo gloria!