In my previous post, I suggested that conflict is both an inevitable and a necessary part of the world we live in. I also suggested that the experience of conflict has to do with our being made in the likeness of a good God.
The earliest human experiences, as told in the Bible, are experiences of conflict and of learning to engage with conflict in ways that bring forth life. There is the conflict of resting from work when there is so much work to be done. There is the navigating of the conflicts of tending a garden: not enough water, and plants cannot grow; too much water, and plants cannot grow: water must be channelled; plants, too, must be cultivated, not left to overrun, to encroach on others. There is the conflict resulting from being different from the other animals and needing to find a corresponding companion. In engaging conflict, the human beings are participating in the life of all creation, and in the life of God.
A new character finds voice in this unfolding story, a character who calls into question something God has (not) said. What follows is often considered to be the root cause of conflict, between male and female, between humanity and the planet. But we might read it as another opportunity to engage with conflict (conflict = difference + tension), and one that reveals to us our ability (perhaps, propensity) to engage with conflict badly, with negative consequences.
The serpent brings a bad report, calls God’s character into disrepute, suggesting that God has acted in a particular way out of selfish and unloving motives, perhaps out of fear. God is not present to be asked and to offer clarification, in order that a greater understanding be reached. Initially, Eve challenges the serpent’s report (she adds to God’s words to the man, and much has been speculated as to why and whether it matters or not), but ultimately a series of related conflicts –
abundance / perceived lack
perceived food / perceived wastage
delighting in / consuming
wisdom / knowledge –
are resolved badly. Compounding the situation, attempted physical withdrawal from the situation, defensive and aggressive survival strategies are all employed, drawing relationship apart.
Complex consequences are set in motion – complex not least because each response to every conflict has the potential to draw us further apart and the potential to draw us closer together; complex also because conflict is inevitable, and is the (very) raw material for a good end, which will be brought to fruition through hard work and perseverance.
From here on in, throughout the Bible, we see this conflict - reconciliation played out: on the micro-level of the relationship between brothers; to the macro-level of relationships between nations; to the meta-level of the relationship between all creation and God. The goal is not a return to a fresh start in an unspoiled garden, but something altogether greater. It is also ongoing.
Our conflicts are not a distraction from entering-into the life, the love, of God. They are the very places of transformation where it becomes possible to do so. They are the places of our passing from death into life. The labour pains of something new, something longed-for but as-yet unknown, un-named. Every conflict is a kairos moment, where the kingdom of heaven has come near, if we are willing to repent (to change our perspective) and believe (to live out a different way of being).
How, then, can the abundance of conflicting hopes and dreams and needs and visions and desires and preferred futures and painful pasts and frustrated ‘now’s be engaged with graciously, lovingly, for the transformation of us all?
That is what we are called to, as human beings. That is what we are called to live out, as the Church.