“That same chapter from our Rule of Life goes on to say, ‘tensions and friction are not to be regarded as signs of failure. Christ uses them for our conversion.’ For me, this is a very powerful and important statement. It argues that conflict can be transformative.”
It led me to question whether there is within conflict a connection between tension, community and transformation or change. Are not tensions and friction usually regarded as signs of failure in relationships? How does Jesus use them to change us from un-righteous conflict to the grace of being right with God?
We are created as social beings. We know from experience tensions and conflicts are part of everyday life. It came to me the perpetrators of tension and conflict are us, you and I. We are complex, fragile, incomplete beings. I believe we need to acknowledge the reality of tension and conflict that mark all forms of human society.
The ancients reaching back to primeval history and myth tell a story of our first conflict as human beings, a collision of wills, God’s and ours. We disobeyed and ate the apple when God told us not to.
“Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the humans have become like one of us, knowing good and evil, and now they might reach out their hands and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever’— therefore the Lord God sent them forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which they were taken. He drove out the humans, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:22-24
Our first conflict resulted in failure and banishment. Fallen humanity, as the ancients wrote, became subject to sin and death. I believe the misunderstandings, tensions, conflicts we inflict on one another are no different than that original failure.
I also believe that original failure does not continue to subsist in our nature. I see the enemy and it is us not the serpent. The reality is life East of Eden became a lot harder for us to discern God’s will. We still continue willfully to harm our souls in opposition to God’s purpose. This should not be regarded as permanent signs of failure. Christ uses them for our conversion as we grow in mutual forbearance and learn to let go of the pride and hubris that drives us to control and reform on our own terms.
We know with certainty God never gives up on us. Embedded in our failures is a promise: fallen humanity will be redeemed. It was never about the apple, it was about Jesus, the seed of woman, who tramples Satan under his feet.
“I will put enmity between you and the women, between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head,” Genesis 3:15
How do we learn to let go of the pride that drives us to control and reform each other on our own terms? Are we not living again in that devastating conflict of wills, God’s and ours?
Jesus recognizes this and warns us, to follow him, we must seek reconciliation and forgiveness when we are in conflict with someone.
“So, when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first to be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on your way to court with him.” Matthew 5:23-25
Paul certainly recognized the Ephesians propensity, and ours, to forget the baptismal promises leading to tension and real conflict in their church or in any community.
“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31
We are asked to empty ourselves of anger, argument, apathy and bitterness and, in their place, pour into our lives forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion. And every time we do this God gifts us saving Grace.
“Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies, you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth.” 2 Timothy 23-25
Finally, how does conflict and tension lead to transformation individually and in community? How does Jesus use them to turn us from un-righteous conflict to righteousness and grace?
So, to answer my questions, I believe change does take place in the aftermath of tension, argument and conflict. Jesus shows us the way from unrighteousness to righteousness. Conflict leads to communi-cation; communication leads to reconciliation; reconciliation leads to repentance; repentance leads to forbearance, forgiveness, kindness, agape love!
Jesus taught us to pray this: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
*Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE)