Reflections on Conflict and Pride
Have you ever had an argument with your spouse (If you aren’t married, replace “spouse” with anyone else)? I don’t mean the good kind of argument, in which there is a free and civil exchange of opposing opinions. I mean the kind that devolves into irritation, anger, and possibly, unkind words. If you have—just admit it, you have—you know how difficult it can be to clean up the mess. And you know that the difficulty is not usually some external obstacle, but rather is an internal conflict with pride—yours, the other party’s, or quite likely, both.
I like it best, naturally, when I’m not at fault, when I’m able to restrain myself and behave decently when everything in me is urging me to release my passions and strike back. It’s still unpleasant, but at least my conscience is clear. Even then, though, it’s almost impossible not to feel some unexpressed outrage over the injustice I’ve been dealt. Then there is the pride that often accompanies the knowledge that I’ve controlled myself and been “good.” I don’t always feel that way, but too often, I do. And hidden sins are still sin.
The easiest conflicts to resolve are the ones in which I alone am at fault. Once I come to that conclusion, it’s a relatively simple matter to confess it and say, “I’m sorry.” I still hate it, but I can do it. I must do it, and I will not be happy until I do. I can resolve those conflicts, because it’s entirely in my hands to do so. And it’s difficult to go away proud.
The hardest conflicts to resolve are those in which I believe the fault is shared, especially if I didn’t start it (yes, that’s as juvenile as it sounds). Yes, I know I did wrong, but I (maybe) didn’t start it, and after all, I was provoked. I’m not the only one who owes an apology. I’m offended, too! So I sit and stew over it. Yes, I know I should confess, and yes, I even want to, but it’s not fair! What if I’m the only one who admits my fault? What if I don’t receive an apology in return? I’ve worked hard to avoid making phony “I’m sorry, but . . .” statements, and I don’t think I’ve done that in a very long time, but time and practice have done nothing to change how much it absolutely kills me. I want to say “but.” I want to explain myself, to mitigate my guilt. Yes, I was wrong, but it’s perfectly understandable, don’t you see? Alright, I’m sorry, but where is my justice?
It seems natural in those situations to think of myself as only half of the problem, bearing only fifty percent of the blame, but God doesn’t see it that way. He looks at me and what I have done independently from what anyone else has done. He didn’t see two people cooperating in a sin; he saw two people sinning independently against each other and against him. That leaves me with one hundred percent of my own guilt. It’s only when I see that, when I can separate my sin from another’s, that I feel its full weight. Only then will my pride be killed. Only then can there be sincere confession and genuine repentance. Only then can I take the full weight of my guilt to the cross, and leave it there.
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