What is the place for conflict within the community of grace? Clearly it is the method by which pseudo becomes authentic, the Velveteen Rabbit becomes Real and grains of sand become pearls, but why then does it feel so wrong? How have I come to mistake discomfort for sin, passivity for humility, and niceness for biblical kindness? Perhaps in part it is because every disagreement means, basically, that I think the other position is wrong…that, after all, is what it means to disagree. That posture assumes authority over another, even if both are vying for it, and that seems so self-promoting, prideful, and devaluing of the other person. But is it?
Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me —that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers. Psalm 141:5
How can a strike be a kindness? I suppose it depends upon the ultimate goal, right? For instance, a vaccination is cruel if it is just for the sake of injury, or power of one over another, or in anger to wound another. But if the vaccination has its goal greater health, then the initial pain is part of a long term kindness. Taking the other perspective, is it truly kind to avoid the battle with the small child and the temporary pain but jeopardize their long term health and life expectancy? I think many friendships hit a plateau, remaining in shallow water, because the fear of temporary awkwardness and work overrides the desire for long term depth and commitment. OK, but this is still just anecdotal…how does the person and work of Jesus inform this discussion?
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. Matt. 15:16 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Matt. 16:8 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Luke 24:25
When it comes to matters of the heart, opportunities for the growth of faith, Jesus does not consider it “nice” to pat His friends on the back and remain silent. When He challenges my affections, questions my security, helps me to examine my most honest allegiance or exposes my self-reliance, He is not being mean but coming as my Redeemer in the same manner as those who love an addict may intervene in their beloved’s self-destruction.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Cor. 13:1
“I’m just being honest” doesn’t excuse abrasive, cutting comments. Too often, I care more about being right or winning than about breathing life into those with whom I disagree. Jesus never made a snarky remark while walking away. His rebuke was almost always followed with instruction for the sake of restoring, regenerating and bringing sight, not bruises. I too often bruise. So, for fear of the bruise I remain silent. The Gospel third way draws from the extremes of uninvested judgments on one hand or silent deference on the other. The person and work of Jesus invite me to speak up and fight for greater faith of those I love (which should be all of His people, whether they acknowledge Him yet or not) as He speaks up and fights for greater faith for me. They all go together.
And what keeps this humility from being thinly veiled superiority? Perhaps it is the awareness that even as I judge (a terribly uncomfortable word), I stand in judgment. I do or don’t do, think or don’t think, believe or don’t believe the very things I aim to address in another, and we both only see to the extent that He gives us sight. And sight is GOOD! We want sight! Because He values us, He corrects our limited vision, dull faith and foolishness. I am equally in need of the grace I long to impart, and ask first that Jesus’ faith-growing, life-giving rebuke be the oil poured over my head and that this be the perfume shared with others.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. Gen. 32:24