Well it’s been an interesting week. I was speaking to a young leader and he was telling how he has recently had a falling out with a co-leader. My wife is currently trying to be a mediator between two parties which are tearing each other apart. As well as that I’m trying to be a mediator between a husband and wife which is clearly heading towards divorce.
What a shocker of a week. But when you think about it this is, sadly what life is like. Conflict is part of our DNA. When the first couple (i.e. Adam and Eve) rebelled against God, everything fell apart and every relationship was destroyed. Since then our world has only known conflict after conflict after conflict. One guy worked out that in the entire span of written history man has only known 300 yrs of world peace. Not a good track record.
OK that’s the world but surely, as believers we should be able to handle it better? Well I believe we should and can but I think we’ve forgotten the key to handling conflicts.
So how do we do it? There are different ways we approach it. The most common is to get people to talk to each other and understand each other. It all sounds good but my experience has shown me that this often doesn’t work. I’m not saying that it’s bad. But I am saying that often there is a lot of bad blood that has already been happened that makes communication very very awkward.
Alternatively we try to by-pass the conflicts and set up some neutral zone to keep both parties apart so that they don’t kill each other. The UN calls this peace keeping but in reality it is only keeping people away from each other. In a church context what we do is set up committee after committee after committee, all in an attempt to address the symptom. In doing this we are trying to organise away the conflict. However all this does is simply make people extra busy, create all sorts of red-tape and ultimately bury the problem.
So what is the way forward? I want to suggest that the missing element is ‘forgiveness’. It is the ONLY way we can deal with the conflict, with the hurt and the only way to reconcile enemies.
Communication and organising things better is good in managing how we work with each other but that is all they are – they are management tools. They have no power to deal with conflicts. Only forgiveness has that ability to reconcile people. In forgiveness we choose not to punish the other person as they deserve. In forgiveness we are willing to wipe the slate clean of the hurt and to aim for reconciliation. In forgiveness we are prepared to put aside the damage that has been done. Indeed in forgiveness we are prepared to accept the damage so that a relationship can be maintained.
Now when you think about it that essentially is how God resolves the conflict between himself and us. He reconciles us by forgiving us. But he is able to forgive us because he was prepared to accept the damage himself by sending his son to die in our place.
What this tells us is that true forgiveness that brings reconciliation is never cheap. it is always painful. But instead of taking the pain on our enemy we absorb the pain into ourselves in order to love our enemy and be at peace with them.
So this is where the rubber hits the road. When things have fallen foul between yourself and someone else, or if you are the meditator between two groups the most important question everyone needs to ask is “Will you forgive me?” and/or “Will you forgive the other person?”
This is why Christians have the edge in dealing with conflict over and above unbelievers. Whereas the unbelieving world has no understanding of forgiveness, forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian gospel. If we have truly understood God’s forgiveness then we will understand what we are called to do with others whom we have hurt.
And this is why, in the world, there can never ever be an end to war. But at least in the church we do have real hope that things can and will get better.
Will you Forgive…..? Until we come to this point we can talk all we like, we can organise all the committees we like but we will never truly reconcile people. We will only bury the conflict and relationships become nothing more than mere diplomacy.
Forgiveness – the missing key in conflict resolution.
This is my reflection