Posted by: William | March 5, 2008

Conflict Resolution

I was thinking today about a conflict that a friend is currently involved in. I won’t go into details about the specifics of the conflict, but the nature is basically that there are two parties with difficulty being around each other. On both sides of the relational divide there is deep wounds inflicted by the opposing party. The situation, as with any conflict, calls for a deep rooted devotion to sacrificial love, regardless of discomfort, awkwardness, expectation, pain, fear—sacrificial love aimed directly at the offending persons. The solution is clear. The path to the solution is less than clear. Painful wounds await healing and legitimate fear requires courage to walk out in spite of.

This has had me thinking in terms of conflict resolution in Christian circles. I have a hypothesis that secular psychology has influenced the matter and so where there are hurts and wounds (especially at the hands of another Christian) the all important self triumphs over righteousness. I don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t deal gently with ours and other’s wounds, I simply mean to say that I think there’s a balance between encouraging what is right, in spite of pain, and allowing people space to mend—it’s a balance that I don’t think we’ve struck very well.

In scripture we find the discussion of peace to be a heavy one. The lines between peace with God and peace with other people are often blurred. Such places as Luke 6:37 we see a fundamental connection between our own forgiveness from God and our forgiveness of other people. Our peace with God and our peace with others are interwoven in some way that I’m not set to discuss right now, but it’s an important thing to consider, especially when talking about conflict resolution. What correlation does peace have with forgiveness? Must we be at peace with someone to forgive them? In order to be at peace with someone do we have to be able to engage each other in some form of relationship? Well, I’m not completely sure.

One observation that I’ve made is that peace, true peace, peace that I think Paul discusses in Romans 12:18 when he commands “be at peace with everyone”, is a self-sacrificial condition in which the flesh and its evil desires are constantly mortified. Let’s say there are two parties that are in conflict with each other, they resolve not to never speak again. Because of the decision, there comes also a lack of conflict. However, after some time, they are, for some reason, brought back into each other’s company. Without any kind of specific provocation both parties are stirred to anger with the other party. Is this peace? Certainly not. Circumstantial lack of conflict does not constitute peace; just dormant conflict. I think that in all conflict the ideal that we ought to strive for, in Christ, is a true peace in which offended parties will truly be at peace with one another.

In the conflict at hand, there have been many wounds inflicted by the opposing parties. This obviously makes the prospect of future peace all the more daunting. It’s gotten me thinking about Philemon and Onesimus. Philemon was a Christian and a slave owner, while Onesimus was one of his non-Christian slaves. At some point, Onesimus robbed Philemon and fled (the reasons for which are not clear, although we could speculate that a slave’s life is less that desirable). In his flight, Onesimus comes into contact with Paul, a friend or acquaintance of Philemon. Paul speaks the Gospel to Onesimus and he is converted. Now, in those days, a slave’s flight was in many cases a death wish. Many slave owners would put their escaped slaves to death to make an example of them to the other slaves. In Onesimus’ mind, the fact that he also robbed Philemon would likely have been icing on the cake. In spite of all this Paul commands Onesimus to return to Philemon. Even more striking and dangerous than Paul’s command to Onesimus was his command to Philemon to take him back “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16).

Talk about baggage, hurts, wounds—there were probably all of these, to a degree we’ve probably never experienced. Yet, Paul doesn’t command Philemon to just not kill Onesimus, or even to just bring him back as a slave. No, it’s way more radical than that. He tells him to accept him back as a beloved brother. Paul essentially commands that the both of them lay down their fears, hesitations, expectations, desires and awkwardness and love one another as brothers! Paul doesn’t take much of the emotional difficulties of the situation into account; he has enough faith that God will easily provide for both of them as they have need.

I know that conflict is a messy thing and black and white solutions are rare. But I pray that as each of us lives and moves we would attempt to deal with conflicts between ourselves and others in Christ. That we would attempt, with all our ability to behave self-sacrificially and consider, even our enemies, better than ourselves. I pray that as much as it depends on us, we would live at peace with everyone.



  1. amen and peace.

  2. Very hard words. But I am very encouraged. I think this puts into word beautifully what I’ve been thinking for the past few years in regard to countless situations. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: