This week’s commentary comes from Good Word out of the School of Theology at Walla Walla University. The audio of this conversation can be found on the Good Word website here.
Host: David Thomas
Guests: Brant Berglin and Jenniffer Ogden
Texts for the Week: Matt. 7:5; Eph. 1:7; Phil. 2:4–8; Eph. 4:26, 27; James 1:19, 20; Col. 3:19; Matt. 7:12
Memory Text: “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph 4:26, NKJV.)
Opening Question: What do we do when conflict comes home?
The lesson this week delves into the reality that we all live with on this planet where everything is broken, that sometimes we experience conflict even at home. Conflict can come for any number of reasons – over finances, over disagreements due to parenting, to different opinion on how religion should be practiced, and the list goes on. Sometimes the conflict is mild but at other times it can be quite intense as would be the case where there is abuse of some kind going on in a home. Conflicts over religion can also be very intense. So what is a person to do when these occasions of trouble come along?
One of the first things to keep in mind is that, because we are imperfect and because we live in an imperfect world, the appearance of trouble should not be a surprise. What is in mind here is the expectations you have about life. Realistically, we should be prepared to have to deal with conflict because it is endemic to life on this earth. We are not perfect, and the members who end up making our families, are not perfect either. Being realistic about the probability of conflict is a very good beginning place.
A second thing to keep in mind is that it is seldom a good thing to keep running away from conflict. Certainly, the prospect of conflict is usually unpleasant, even unnerving, and we instinctively want to avoid it but facing the conflict is usually the best way toward its resolution. Facing the conflict and finding a way through it is what opens the door to a new level of equilibrium in a relationship.
When facing and dealing with conflict, it is a very good idea to remember that conflict is best managed when tensions are low. Once conflict escalates, the prospects of issues being properly dealt with goes way down. Finding a way to handle issues when conflict levels are low is often more an art than a science. Sometimes it is necessary to enlist the help of a third party to facilitate the discussion.
One element involved in conflict that should be carefully discussed is the issue of anger. Anger is a very powerful emotion that can easily get out of control. Because of that, it is a dangerous emotion. At the same time, anger does serve a legitimate and valuable purpose in life. For one thing, it is what gives us the gumption to deal with wrong. Ephesians 4:26 and 27 have some interesting things to say about anger not the least of which is that it is possible to be angry without sinning! Further, there is something called “righteous indignation,” a proper anger that is directed toward righting wrong and injustice. When thinking about this, two major points prevail, first, that getting angry involves a choice. The person getting angry chooses to get angry so is responsible for their anger. Just keeping that little fact in mind oftentimes mitigates the anger. It is not true that others make us angry. It is rather, that we chose to exhibit anger in response to what others may have done. Secondly, good anger is almost never focused on self. Good anger is not used to serve the interests of self but rather of right and good.
One other item – a very sad one – needs to be discussed here and that is the sad fact that in some relationships, in some homes, there is abuse. Sometimes, one partner or the other chooses to exercise dominance to the point they mistreat others even to the point of being violent. We all need to recognize that this kind of thing is not only unacceptable. It is intolerable! It is totally inimical to Christian life and behavior. As the official lesson so ably stated, “a healthy relationship is one in which both partners feel protected and safe, in which anger is managed in a healthy way, and in which serving one another is the norm.”
One final item warrants a bit of time, the matter of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the process of burying offenses to the point they no longer affect relationships and doing so not so much for personal peace but because we ourselves have been forgiven. Further, forgiveness is something that is offered to another person in the face of offense. It is while the offense is hot in our minds that the need to forgive arises. And, partly because forgiveness is not conditioned by what preceded it, it is a very powerful thing indeed. It can erase, in a matter of moments, the hostilities of many years. One of the things we should expect to do is offer forgiveness to family members for, in the dynamic of life on this planet, there will be many opportunities to do so.
We close with a wonderful but challenging verse – Romans 12:10 (NIV): Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
David Thomas is Professor of Practical Theology & Apologetics. He has been a member of the faculty at WWU since the summer of 2001. He served as Dean of the School of Theology for seventeen years (2001-2018). He is now focused on full-time teaching and writing.
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