Friday, January 23, 2009

Avoiding Grace

I am the best of men when I am alone. I am also the worst of them then as well. I have learned that there is no such thing as a Christian hermit. The life of the Christian only occurs in relation to others. No one is a Christian by himself. What would he look like?

Oh, sure, we feel changed and improved over time, but it's only a delusion if we are not better to be around. The change is real only as we rub each other the wrong way and learn how to keep loving each other. If no one benefits from your changing self except you, you can be sure it is worthless. This is why the greatest commandments are relational: "Love God. Love people." Loving your enemies, your neighbors, and your God is the substance of the Christian faith. Nothing else. We are changed only as our relationships change us.

The rub of conflict always seems to slow a relationship down. Conversation is closed off. Distance grows. But for the Christian, conflict can be the grease that moves us closer to God by making us a bit more like him as we relate to others. That the friction becomes the fuel for God's work in you is a paradox built by grace.

Creating conflict is easy. Just go about your business. Conflict for me has meant two things: apologizing and confrontation. I hate both. I am good at reasoning myself out of doing them and instead glossing things over. But I am no more like Christ then, and neither is my counterpart.

I prefer to believe that I am a good man. Apologizing dislodges that belief. I can't apologize and still believe that. Or, if I'm a bad man, I would prefer to be the one telling myself that than to have others do it. But confrontation opens me to that possibility. Maybe I'm the one who's wrong.

Resolving it all is the scary part. It's scary because I won't be the same when it's over. I like who I am now. But God won't let me settle in here, the way I am. He's not content with letting me be half finished and better than whomever I might compare myself to. Maybe Paul had something like this in mind when he wrote, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." I'm feelin' that.

Even before God, we are not alone (Foster said it to comfort us). We are accountable. We stand in relation to God. In the same way that we get ready for a wedding, if we are to be ready for heaven (the wedding and the reception and the dancing), we must be "clothed with Christ," in part by resolving conflict with others. We've got to get ready for the party by letting conflict fuel the change in us. It's grace at work.

I still don't like conflict or confrontation or apologizing. But I love God, so I'm making an effort. But I'm just starting, and it's slow and awkward and unsettling. Where I have faced conflict, I am trying to confront it. Where I have been wrong, I am trying to apologize. I still hate it, but it's getting a little easier.

Just a little.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
Colossians 3:13-14


Jonathan said...

Samuel Johnson wrote (in Rasselas) something like this: "The life of the hermit is certainly miserable, but not certainly devout."

Bryan and Meggan said...

You should be glad that love keeps no record of wrongs, otherwise I could add to your list of necessary apologies...