Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18
I am still thinking here about the very difficult debates raging through the church today over the same-sex issues and what scripture says (or what it does not say) about the issue. It occurs to me that seeking peace with each other around this issue has less to do with WHAT we have to say and much more to do with our HEARTS as we engage each other in this conversation.
Peace can be a tricky thing. As high a value as scripture makes it, as many times as we are instructed to pursue it among God’s people, the way toward peace and the way toward conflict often move in the same direction. That makes it tricky.
Peace, you see, is NOT necessarily just the absence of conflict. As long as people are involved, there will be conflict…there will be disagreement…and there will be hurt feelings. In the midst of those things, peace does NOT require moving away from each other. Rather, peace requires moving toward each other. It requires having difficult conversations…even painful conversations. Avoiding those conversations may bring a temporary peace, at least it may feel more peaceful for a short season, but the long term result is just the opposite of peace…it is chaos and frustration and complication.
So, the first point here is that “pursuing peace” often requires moving toward the conflict rather than away from it…moving toward the difficult conversation rather than waiting in the wings and allowing the pain to fester over time. The problem, then, is how to tell the difference between “pursuing peace” and fueling a fight. Both are moving toward the conflict, both involve a confrontation. How do we distinguish between them? How do I make sure I am on the right track and not a harmful track? That brings us to our second point.
It is a question of the heart. The Arbinger Institute, in The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict describes the distinction between a “heart at peace” and a “heart at war”. The former is relating to the other person as a human being with needs and with fears and with pains. The latter has “otherized” the other person and treats them as an object rather than a human being…an object to be pushed away, to be disregarded, even hated.
Jesus describes the distinction in terms of our ability to see clearly. He says,
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matt. 7:3-5
Seeing clearly, as it turns out, is the difference between a heart at peace and a heart at war. Having that difficult conversation with the person who has hurt you requires that you have prayerfully sought the Lord’s perspective on that person, so that you can see him/her as God sees him/her…you can see him/her as a child of God, with fears and insecurities and needs. Your desire is not to push him/her away, as some undesirable object; rather, it is to pull them forward with you toward peace. It is to pursue peace together.
If you are thinking, “Well, that seems awfully difficult,” then congratulations…now you are seeing the truth. Genuine Christian community, our life together as the body of Christ, was never intended to be easy. It was intended to be peaceful.