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Posted by John Fair

It is conflict’s nature to bring chaos, and darkness, and confusion into what is otherwise the light trying to illuminate our paths (The Peacemaking Pastor, page 35. As such, conflict can easily make us blind guides afraid of the light we are called to lead our flock into. This light I call the presence of “an awakening” force seeking to offer us the truth – that without conflict we would never get out of our beds each morning. Conflict is an important force that can be harnessed to create wholesome life together. It is what we do with it in the context of our shared communities that makes the difference of life or death.

For me, what is key to conflict is its gift allowing me to discriminate and choose (or not to choose) the lighted path before me. This mirrors what Plato understood centuries ago: We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. What I am not sure of, however, is whether Plato understood the darkness as matter of the mind or of the heart, for I believe it is from the darkness in the heart that conflict is born. Is it any wonder then why so many believe that humanity can educate itself out of conflict? We can deny the heart by running into the false light of our minds. Conflict is waged successfully when heart and mind are held in conversation with one another – when the mind is disciplined to search the questions of the heart.

I choose to use the working definition for conflict from the author of The Peacemaking Pastor. In attempts to grasp the abstractness of conflict it is defined in a more personal way as: a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires ... with the results that conflict occurs when my desires, expectations, fears, or wants collide with your desires, expectations, fears, or wants (page 29). These are matters of the heart. Take this definition and lay it out on a larger corporate / collective level and we can begin to understand the matters of the heart of a people called a nation – the heart of society.

Scholars of theology might call the darkness of the heart sin, defining sin as the result of our personal failures in dealing with conflict (original sin)[1] , or our failures to deal with it on a collective (or corporate)[2] level (the fruit of sin visiting generation upon generations).

I believe sin destroys relationships and so exists only in the company of two or more. It makes no sense to speak of it in isolation of relationships with others. Thus theologians, first and foremost, see sin as the broken relationship between the human sinner and his / her relationship seeking God manifesting itself in broken human relationships.

Broken relationships call for justice and it is the role of justice to restore the boundaries broken.[3] Unfortunately, justice is all too often negotiated away as punishment without the necessary hoped for restoration. This is not justice but miss-justice – a justice delivered in the darkness of our hearts. The justice offered in the light is the actions of loving God (theologically speaking, the measure of justice), loving the other (upon whom our existence depends), and not doing harm (desire for the other what we desire for our self). This is difficult work.

By its very nature, conflict is filled with complexity. It is both good and necessary for both personal and societal advancement, and when waged poorly results in brokenness and wounding. But here is the rub after all. We are the broken and wounded ones waging conflict. Do we fear that the light we are called into will disclose this truth?

End Notes

[1] The doctrine of original sin comes out of the Biblical fall of the first man and woman (Adam and Eve). Thus Adam’s basis of sin (hence ours) was his loss of faith and gratitude before the giver of his life (God) and the loss of knowledge of all that is true and good and beautiful – God’s gifts (Miroslav Volf Free of Charge, page 95. Thus we see, for us to eat of the forbidden fruit is for us to seek our independence from God – in essence to say: “God, you do not exist.” We do and say the same to others when we seek our independence from them. This is at the core of sin’s nature. It is the fruit of conflict waged badly.

[2] I refer the reader to another perspective on the origin of sin. The Reverend Ben Campbell ( in the February 2008 News Letter ( 08 UpDate.pdf) suggests we consider original sin in a way that more accurately describes the state of humanity into which every new human being is born. The light he wishes to shine on the darkness is that no place, no society, and no time is innocent. We have work to do.

[3] I believe that conflict arises when our individual boundaries collide. Boundaries provide safe sanctuaries in which to live and understand who we are as persons and as persons living in context one with the other. It is within these boundaries when issues such as divided allegiances, matters of authority, and personal / national preferences result in conflict. These are almost always identity related matters.


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