Unresolved conflict, like a rampant cancer, reaches far beyond its original participants. It has the power to destroy both families and societies. Its corrosive power consumes both innocent and guilty, generating a force that can be neither contained nor controlled.
The recent outrage in Tunisia, that has brought unspeakable tragedy to so many of our families, is but one example of this evident truth. We feel the pain, but feel helpless before an evil that we can neither contain nor control.
A careful reading of the letters of St Paul reveals that he was no stranger to conflict. The churches that he established carried within themselves the seeds of division. There was an abiding distrust between early Christians who came from a Jewish background and those from a wider world that had no knowledge of Jewish custom and Law.
In the Church of Corinth there were those who understood morality as a matter of personal choice, completely divorced from the sovereign will of God. Inevitably these disputes hardened around divisive personalities, sowing the seeds for further division. There was the very real danger of a tribal dispute that would threaten the Church itself.
Such was the situation denounced by the prophet Jeremiah. “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered. It is the Lord who speaks. This is what the Lord says about these shepherds in charge of my people. You have let my flock be scattered and go wandering and have not taken care of them.”
These words of condemnation must surely apply to any unresolved conflict and its unanticipated consequences. We might feel helpless to resolve global conflict, but this cannot be said of the daily irritations that we sometimes allow to develop into open hostility.
We should never accept unresolved conflict to continue in our lives. It has the power to destroy families, parishes and churches. Sadly we have to confess that while we can initiate conflict, we are frequently helpless to control its consequences.
With St Paul, we must first confess any stubborn pride on our own part that has fuelled the conflict, and then trust in Christ’s power to heal. “In Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far from us have been brought very close by the blood of Christ. For he is the peace between us, actually destroying in his own person the hostility between us.”
The hostility that we so easily entertain can become a passion that consumes us. On the Cross Jesus took this burden to himself. Let us surrender our troubled hearts to his healing peace.