“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? Matthew 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 7:3-5
In my last post I encouraged you to embrace relational pain because God is at work in it. I want to talk about the specific ways God is at work.
Some pain is worse than others
Let me start by qualifying what I am saying. The work of conciliation is to help people with ordinary conflict. I do not offer conciliation services to people who have experienced violence, abuse, infidelity, or crime.
Christian conciliators are not naïve. I would never encourage abused and abuser to “kiss and make up.” It is evil to ask a victim of malevolence to pursue reconciliation. Under no circumstance should the victim place themselves in a position of unprotected vulnerability with the perpetrator. Where it is appropriate, it is better to encourage them to press charges.
But most conflicts are ordinary. Ordinary does not mean they are not deeply heart wrenching. Years of unkindness, selfishness, and a lack of confession and forgiveness can lead to a bitter divorce. But the ingredients in the divorce are the accumulated common sins we commit against each other.
So, how does God work in the alienation?
He uses it to reveal my fears
Conflicts and differences are inevitable. However, I do not know anyone who does conflict well. Most people are horrified by it. They will do anything to avoid it.
While there are some issues between us and others that we can let fade, there can be no close relationship with other people without addressing the ways we differ with them.
Differ we will. Who gets priority in the budget? Where will we go on vacation this year? What about how we will use our year-end bonus? Or how can we share the work of raising the kids and keeping the house in a way that is equitable and gives us both time to relax?
Addressing these things is essential to a mutual beneficial relationship. But we flee, escape, deny, manipulate — anything but raise the issues and talk wisely about them.
He uses it to reveal my aggressiveness
There is a minority of people who think that they can bully their way through conflict. If you are Jack Reacher (Lee Childs fictional ex special ops vigilante), that works as long as leaving dead bodies behind is what you mean.
Trigger happy people do not resolve differences, they plow over the other person. Impatience and force are their weapons. Yelling, demanding, threatening, suing, slandering, insulting are aggressive ways of not walking through conflict in a way that pleases God.
With both fear and aggressiveness, the other person(s) does not matter. We are not loving them, but loving ourselves and our safety most of all.
He uses it to reveal my selfishness and pride
One of my best friends died during COVID. He was 20 years my senior. Our friendship was an unusual gift that lasted forty years, through all kinds of trials, and ultimately as he walked into Alzheimer’s.
18 months after he died, I co-officiated his memorial service. As I prepared, I thought about the kind of man he was and the wisdom he imparted to me, my marriage, and family. 1
He was a counselor, with years of experience helping people near divorce. Wanting to glean from his experience, I asked him, “Dick, what have you seen as the causes of divorce?” With a pad of paper in hand, I waited for his list.
He paused, reflecting for a moment, then said, “Selfishness.” I waited for more but nothing more came. I asked, “What else?,” and he said, ‘That’s all.”
And that is why conflict is hard to address. The only path to reconciliation is to kill selfishness, to swallow pride, to admit my wrongs, and to love the other person. And, both from digging onto Scripture and by personal observation, I would say that takes a work of God to happen.
He uses it to show me what I value more than him or the other person
Most of us live unconscious of the passions and desires of our hearts. Only when they are provoked in a disagreement do they surface. Here is what that may look like:
You return home from a full day, secretly longing for a quiet evening after dinner. That seemingly innocent desire explodes in anger when your wife or one of your children demands more of you than you had planned to give.
Your hope to raise well behaved children feels virtuous. But your children tell a different story. What they experience is demands, constant criticism, control, and comparison with their peers. In the end, one or more of them rebels and lives out anything but a well behaved life. You despair in shame, blame your spouse for their lack of consistency, and pursue a divorce.
James of the Bible puts it this way:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” (Jas 4:1–2 ESV)
Those passions appear in conflict. And so do words and actions that bubble up from the demands of your heart, demands for what you must have to be happy and fulfilled.
How I respond to what is revealed
Conflict reveals. I cannot emphasize that enough. But you and I do not like seeing what we are really like. As a matter of fact, I am a master of double-standards and denial. That is why Jesus said:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?” (Matt 7:1–4 ESV)
The imagery of logs and specks is humorous, but always true. If I am to gain the benefit of God’s work in the pain I must set myself to face all that he is revealing to me about myself. And that requires him to give me a teachable heart.
Why doesn’t God just tell me?
That is the question we all ask. But, to be candid, would you listen? I find that as long as my life is pain free, I do not listen. Why look in the mirror when everything is fine? That phrase we say to our kids — how many times do I have to tell you? — is what God would say of you or me.
Pain is how he gets your attention. Just as it is with seeing the doctor. That strange looking mole on your arm is small, and probably nothing. Then it grows a bit, and bleeds when you scrub it . . . time to see the dermatologist TODAY!
But is all this worth it?
This is a lot of work. People often tell me that all this work seems daunting. Yes, it is. But having seen the tear stained faces of people confession and reconciling and rebuilding trust, I can tell you it is worth it.
People I help also wonder if every conflict is to be approached this way.
My answer is three fold:
1. Yes, the general pattern is the right path to walk. It can be simplified for daily use.
2. No, not every conflict takes huge amounts of time to resolve. But we need to cultivate the habit of walking through it this way.
3. It all depends on whether you want the prize at the end.
What is the prize?
Reconciliation and a deeper relationship are the most obvious possibility. That is what we pray and strive for. However, the prize is not simply reconciliation with the others. It is knowing God himself.
The true God does not delight in making us feel awful about ourselves. He is not a finger pointing, accusing, nagging deity. But in his love for us, he purposes to show us our disease. That is so he can show us the cure, Jesus the Savior.
But even more so, through Jesus he desires to give himself to you. God’s purpose in redemption is “I will be your God, and you will be my sons and daughters.” I paraphrase that as “I will give myself to you as your God, and I will take you to myself as my people.”
When God gives himself to us, through the redeeming death of Christ, he satisfies us in a way that all those petty treasures we cherish will seem like nothing.
Your Personal and Infinite God
He knows you for what you are. Still, he loved you and gave his Son to pay for all your sins. All this that he might make you his own. The true God knows you, desires to wash you, to make himself known to you, and to ravish you with his beauty through the redemption that is in Christ.
He will not be put off. His intention is fixed to such a degree that he will go after what hinders you. You are blind to your flaws. Something or someone is more important to you, more preferred by you, than the infinite God of beauty and holiness. These must be addressed.2
So he uses relational affliction to turn the lights into the shadows of our self-deception. He awakens us from our fascination with the cheap and lesser gods we worship. The affliction he uses is custom designed for you. As we respond to it, he has nothing but good for us at the end.
Where many people come to know the God of all grace
Many of the people I know who came to trust in Jesus the Savior as adults did so in the wake of severe relational loss. As they said to me on many occasions, it made them face who they really were. And they discovered who Jesus really is.
Will you trust him?
Relational pain makes beautiful people when people trust the God who sends the pain.
People may submit to the God who is chastising them to “teach them some lesson” (what else can you do but submit?), but they will only trust their God when they are convinced his holy and unquenchable love has a liberating purpose in the affliction. Trust means yielding to the skillful hand of the master surgeon as he addresses the diseases of our souls.
What makes Christian conciliation Christian
This is the unique perspective of Christian conciliation. Yes, I want people to be reconciled. Of course, I work so that peace is restored and the relationship rebuilt. But more than all those good things, I want to give people reason to trust their God, to hear his word to them in Scripture, and to be brought more deeply into the ocean of his glorious love through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.
He knows what he is doing and has only good for us on the other side.
- Many times, after we moved away, he and his wife would come for week long visits, at the end of which we would ask, “What did you see?” Their observations about us, our kids, and our lives shaped many of the habits of our 43 years of marriage.[↩]
- C S Lewis wrote his best novel about this. It is called Till We Have Faces. He presents the story of the divine pursuit of us and the infinite joy that comes when we cease resisting.[↩]