Relational conflict has dogged me recently, in spite of the fact that I’d naturally rather offer up a limb than experience—or inadvertently cause—conflict.
When someone accused me of sin, I prayed, “Lord, don’t let me flatter myself in my own eyes that my iniquity cannot be found out and hated” (Ps. 36:2). I know I’m stained with sin, but I couldn’t see my specific sin in this particular situation.
But then, through Romans 5:3–4, God called me to get off my knees, climb out of the weeds, and look at the bigger picture:
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.
Hadn’t I just bemoaned to a friend that I had no perseverance? I realized this after a difficult week with my husband. He was depressed, and I took it all personally and acted desperately. My friend’s response was enlightening: “Don’t beat yourself up. You’ve only been married two-and-a-half years. You haven’t had enough hardships to grow that perseverance in you.”
Oh, right. Perseverance is produced through suffering.
Do you want the peace and fortitude you see that woman exhibiting in the midst of chemo? Do you long to withstand raging winds like that flexible palm tree? The only way to grow this kind of perseverance is through accepting the suffering God sends your way. How thankful I am for John Calvin pointing me back to God’s providence:
The Lord has willed it; therefore it must be borne, not only because one may not contend against it, but also because he wills nothing but what is just and expedient. To sum this up: when we are unjustly wounded by men, let us overlook their wickedness (which would but worsen our pain and sharpen our minds to revenge), remember to mount up to God, and learn to believe for certain that whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God’s just dispensation.
Relational conflict produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character. Not just any character, but the character and image of Christ. I love how Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes paint this picture in their book When God Weeps:
An artist in Florence, Italy once asked the great Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo what he saw when he approached a huge block of marble. “I see a beautiful form trapped inside,” he replied, “and it is simply my responsibility to take my mallet and chisel and chip away until the figure is set free.”
The beautiful form, the visible expression of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is inside Christians like a possibility, a potential. The idea is there, and God uses affliction like a hammer and chisel, chipping and cutting to reveal his image in you. God chooses as his model his Son, Jesus Christ, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Suffering fashions us into a “holy and blameless” image of Christ (Eph. 1:4), much like a figure sculpted out of marble.
Relational conflict also produces hope in us. The word Paul uses here isn’t the “hold your breath, make a wish, cross your fingers” kind. It’s, as John Piper says, “the full assurance and confidence of good things to come.”
How does relational conflict contribute to our full assurance of good things to come? As we cry out to God to help us love those who have hurt us, it gives us assurance that our faith is real. While it is obvious to us that we cannot produce love for that person who has wronged us, we see the Spirit of Christ at work in us, prompting and empowering us not to defend ourselves but to pray for that person who has wronged us, to love the unlovely.
This is hope to hang your hat on—a hope far greater than “hoping” everyone will think you’re pretty great or “hoping” you won’t experience any more relational conflict this month.
While I was reminded that this relational conflict would produce perseverance, character, and hope, that didn’t contain my anger for long. I had searched for my sin in this conflict, but I had come up empty-handed. The accused “offender” (me) was really the offended.
I wanted my name cleared, until I saw that God offered me even more than perseverance, character, and hope. Joni Tada and Steve Estes put it this way:
When your heart is being wrung out like a sponge, an orderly list of “sixteen good biblical reasons as to why this is happening” can sting like salt in a wound. . . .
Purified faith is never an end in itself; it culminates in God. Stronger character is character made muscular not for its sake, but God’s. A livelier hope is more spirited because of its focus on the Lord. To forget this is to tarnish faith, weaken character, and deflate hope.
“If you have these qualities existing and growing in you then it means that knowing our Lord Jesus Christ has not made your lives either complacent or unproductive” (2 Peter 1:8 PHILLIPS).
“Knowing our Lord Jesus Christ” is keeping your eye on the Sculptor—not on the suffering, or even suffering’s benefits.
Amen. May your relational conflict and mine be used of God to produce perseverance, character, and hope. But more than that, may He use these conflicts to draw us back to Himself, our great and only Good.