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Christian Conflict, part 1

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.—1 John 4:20

If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.–Matthew 5:23-24

The greatest commandments tell us to love God wholeheartedly, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The verses above show clearly that our love for God is tested and made real by our love for the people around us.

Without neighbor-love we can easily fall into the error of worshipping a God made in our own image, confusing God’s wrath with our human anger, God’s call with our own ideas of what ought to be done. Or we can enjoy an imaginary love for God that is full of fine feelings and well-expressed thoughts but that never translates itself into real life.

Life with our neighbors requires a real, active, difficult, persistent love. It’s hard to idealize the people we live and work with day after day after day, or to convince ourselves that they agree with us about everything that matters; evidence to the contrary comes up so frequently!  We need to see them as the main characters of their own stories and as characters like us in the great story of God, rather than as bit-players in our own dramas.  We need to support what is good in them, lovingly challenge what seems wrong, and humbly acknowledge that we might not understand what God wills for them.  We need to be willing to see ourselves through their eyes and thus be open to uncomfortable truths.  We need to learn to delight in them as they were created, not to try to shape them according to our will. Such honesty, perseverance, humility and gratitude with the others we encounter every day enables us to enter into true relationship with the great Other, God.

Such true relationships with other people are not easy or tranquil. They necessarily include misunderstanding, disagreement, disappointment and anger. The Bible and the Christian tradition are full of stories and precepts for dealing with anger and conflict in a way that leads us deeper into true relationship with our neighbors and with God.

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