Have you ever felt overwhelmed by conflicts in your life? When conflicts arise, do you run away or attack or try to make peace? While some conflicts are natural and can even promote creativity and change, many of our disagreements result from selfish motives and behavior. Turning conflict into glorifying God can transform the storm of conflict into the grace-filled growth in Christ. Conflict is a natural part of life. While we can’t avoid it, we can decide how to respond to it. We can run from it, escalate it or deal with it in a healthy way. The follower of Christ is to accept the conflict as part of life and pursue peace in healthy ways. The first priority for those that pursue peace in the midst of conflict is to glorify God.
Throughout the Bible, we read of human conflicts. Indeed, Genesis begins with several stories of thwarting behavior. Cain kills Abel, Esau threatens Jacob, and Joseph is nearly killed by his brothers. But we also read stories of reconciliation. Joseph’s story is a classic example. Joseph’s story teaches us about resolving conflict and living together in harmony. Genesis 37-50 is a polished, rational narrative we must reasonably interpret so that the details present in the story as well as those mysteriously absent — merge in to a meaningful story. This story is a reminder of one man who chose to pursue peace and honor God by reconciling with those (his brothers) that had wronged him. We all know of the conflicts we have gone through or are going through in our life. Our own family may be in a terrible mess because of something we did or one of the members did. The anger and hate generated by the conflicts and the hurts just keep bubbling along and we can’t break through the pain -barrier. Communities and churches are divided by the same human imperfection and the work of the kingdom of God spoiled by human sinfulness. How to achieve reconciliation in the face of such conflicts? We are a people who can easily find ourselves at odds with and separated from those who at one time we were close to. Fathers become separated from their sons. Mothers find themselves at odds with their daughters. Friends of long lasting relationships find themselves divided and at odds with one another…. Over the years I have learned that many people live their lives carrying a great deal of hurts. They have hurts from the past that affect them in the present. They have mistakes that they can’t seem to escape from and wounds that they can’t seem to overcome. Some have been treated shamefully. Some have treated others shamefully. There are people who were one-time good friends who haven’t talked to each other in years. There are some who have not talked to members of their family because of something that happened in the past.
I too have faced with number of such conflicting situations. Once in my life I have gone through a very difficult conflict with someone I have been associated with for many years. I do not know what went wrong all of a sudden? I did not have any clue. My tears rolled down. I felt completely overwhelmed and shattered. I struggled to keep myself composed and to realize that the other person was shouting at me. I waited restlessly to see the day getting over. Each second appeared longer than a minute. At the end of the day I was broken wanting to get out of the relationship, after having such close relationship for many years only to receive this kind of treatment finally. I came back home deeply frustrated with in my heart and turning to God for answers. I shared with my family what happened during the day. I felt as if their hearts bled and it was heart breaking for all of us. What a damage done to our souls, I thought. There was no point in talking anything then. Words were already spoken, none could take them back. Damage was already done and who could undo the damage? I could not even feel the presence of God. I started wondering why this has happened in my life. I felt as if my problems overwhelmed me to the point where I just wanted to give up. I paused for a moment to check what I was doing and realized that I was getting ready to quit.
We all have some regrets about the past and we try to forget our sins and mistakes. We say, “Maybe we should think only about today”. Charlie Brown disagreed, “No, that’s giving up. I am still hoping yesterday will get better.” We know that we can’t change what happened yesterday. But we can learn from yesterday’s sins and mistakes, and with God’s help we can use that knowledge to make a better tomorrow. That is what John (also called Mark) did. He had started on a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas, but when they entered Asia Minor he abandoned them and went back home. We are not told why he left, but the apostle Paul saw it as a shameful desertion. Later, Mark became a co-worker with Barnabas. We don’t know the details, but at some point Mark must have changed and reconciled with Paul. When Paul was in prison awaiting execution, he asked Timothy to come and to bring Mark with him. He indicated that Mark was “useful to me for ministry” We cannot erase yesterday, but we can learn from it. When we take our sins and mistakes to the Lord and seek His help, we can have a better today and tomorrow.
I heard the story of a man who with tears in his eyes said to his pastor, “I told my wife I was sorry, but she says she won’t continue to live with me. First John 1: 9 say that God forgives us when we confess our sins. Please talk to her and tell her that if God forgives, she should too.” The pastor knew that this man had “repented” several times before, only to revert to his abusive behavior. So the pastor said, “No, I am not going to tell her that. In your case, saying ‘I’ am sorry is not enough.” His wife insisted that he receive counseling and give evidence of a genuine change before returning home. She was right. Just saying “I’m sorry” is not enough for God either. The leaders of Israel, in the face of trouble brought on by their sin, thought that merely returning to prescribed sacrificial offerings would solve their problems. But God rejected that kind of “repentance.” Merely saying “I’m sorry” is no different than the empty rituals of the Israelites. God said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings”. He meant that repentance must result in a change of heart and a change in behavior.
As we come to the account of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 32 and 33, we come to deal with that very issue-the issue of reconciliation. Jacob was one of these people. He had been separated from his family for twenty years. There is no record that his family came to see him (they might have). But we know that Jacob has not gone back home in this time. In twenty years he had not so much talked to his brother Esau. We find Jacob now returning to Bethel as God had instructed him. His suffering with Laban behind him, he now faces a new challenge- a face-to-face encounter with separated brother Esau. Jacob and Esau have not seen each other in many years. The last time they did, it was not a pleasant departure. Esau’s last words directed to his brother Jacob came through his mother Rebecca when she told Jacob, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself with the thought of killing you”. With those words still ringing in his ears, Jacob is now about to meet his brother face to face. And as he is going on his way, the angels of God meet him, which gave him the reassurance that God was still with him. And with that reassurance he sends his messengers to Esau and prepares to deal with this longstanding separation. Even though Jacob got what was intended for him to have according to God’s plan, Jacob obtained in a way that God very likely did not intend. This scenario in the life of Jacob and Esau is a beautiful example of how reconciliation can be a reality in a relationship regardless what caused conflicts in the first place. If two brothers can be reconciled after being separated in such a damaging way, reconciliation can be a reality for anyone. We need to feel the need of reconciliation and complete dependence upon God, which are very important essentials that must take place in the process of reconciliation.
We all need to live in the present. But what about the mistakes we deeply regret? How can we deal with the past sins and failures that still weigh us down? The memory of our past can rob us of the joy of our salvation. Perhaps we have said or heard others say, ‘if only I could forgive myself for what I have done!” Some people become obsessed with guilt of their past sins. When Joseph made himself known to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, they were speechless and dismayed in his presence. Guilt and fear reminded them of the pain they had caused their aged father Jacob and their brother Joseph. Sensing this, Joseph immediately re-assured them: “Do not… be grieved or angry with yourself because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” When we have sinned and hurt others, we may find ourselves in a position similar to that of Joseph’s brothers. But if we have confessed our sins, we can be assured that we have been forgiven. Oswald Chambers, speaking of the sadness of what might have been, said: “Never be afraid when God brings back the past. Let memory have its way. God will turn the ‘might have been’ into a wonderful source of nourishment and growth for the future” God does not want us to be imprisoned by yesterday, but to be free for today and tomorrow.
A meaningful apology can be the first step toward forgiveness. Author Colleen O’Connor says, “The successful apology dissolves anger and humiliation. It shows respect, builds trust, and helps prevent further misunderstanding. A sincere apology makes it much easier to forgive”. Author Barbara Engel says that a true apology depends on the three R’s: regret, responsibility and remedy, which finally leads to reconciliation. As followers of Jesus, we are instructed to forgive others when they repent and are sorry. In the same spirit of humility and love, we must help those who need to forgive us by offering a genuine apology. A sincere apology doesn’t compel others to forgive, but it is the right thing to do. We must take the first step on the pathway towards the freedom of forgiveness and reconciliation. A heartfelt apology can’t change the past, but it can brighten the future.