The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Conflict Resolution God ‘s Way – Psalm 51

All of us experience conflict at some point – whether it be with a spouse, family member, friend, colleague, or acquaintance. Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In a sense, conflict is simply looking at the same thing from a different perspective as someone else. Conflict can even be a good thing, even beneficial, especially when solving problems. But when conflict isn’t handled well, we can easily offend, or be offended by, another person and hurt emerges. In a way, we should expect this to happen. The Bible tells us that we all fall short of what God intended us to be (Rom 3:23b). So, when there is offence we apologise, and where there is hurt, we forgive.

Yet, no matter how much we apologise it doesn’t undo our offense. No matter how much we forgive, hurt can remain. While we may go through the process of apologising and forgiving, we can be left with the sense that the issue remains unresolved, and we feel insecure in our relationship with the other person. So, we really need to have a way where we can deal with this type of hurt that leaves us feeling secure in our relationship with the other person that we have offended or have been offended by.

The good news is, there is such a way! We see it when there is a conflict between God and his people, and God is the one who is offended. When it comes to differences in perspective, it’s not possible to have a greater conflict than between a holy God whose judgements are always right (Ps 19:7–8) and a sinner who is constantly deceived by their heart and mind (Jer 17:9). Yet, God’s approach to conflict resolution means his people can be absolutely secure in their relationship with him.

We see this in Psalm 51 with David, who was chosen by God to be king over God’s people, and yet comes into sharp conflict with God and offends him. So, it’s worth having a look to see how God does conflict resolution and apply his approach when resolving our conflicts. To do this, we’ll look at:

  1. David’s offence.
  2. David’s apology.
  3. God’s forgiveness.
  4. Moving forward.

Then we’ll see how God’s way of conflict resolution can be applied to how we apologise and forgive where offences need to be addressed.

1. David’s Offence

The background to this Psalm comes from 2 Sam 11 where we read about David’s dealings with Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah. There’s a lot going on in that narrative. In summary, David makes Bathsheba pregnant, then arranges to have Uriah killed as a casualty of war. Even in a permissive culture such as ours, the severity of the offence is readily appreciated. David knows he has done wrong.

2. David’s Apology

David’s first response is to appeal to God’s character. He doesn’t presume that this is something he can fix or undo. Uriah is dead! There is no “undo” for that. Bathsheba is pregnant. There is no “undo” for that – at least not a moral one! All David can do is ask God to treat him according to God’s character – his steadfast love and abundant mercy – and not according to what David has done (Ps 51:1–2). Neither is David trying to minimise his offence. He’s not saying, “Opps, I didn’t mean to make Bathsheba pregnant … I didn’t mean to kill Uriah … I was just, you know, wanting some fun and got a little carried away.” David was very intentional in his actions toward Bathsheba, and his attempts to cover up his dealings with her. Now David had to deal with the consequences. You can imagine every time he looked at Bathsheba, who he took as his wife, or looked at his son, who Bathsheba bore to him, he would be haunted by the memory of what he had done. In a very real sense, his sin was always before him (v. 3). In apologising, David cannot promise to fix what he has done.

Secondly, David must reckon with his own character. His confession of only having sinned against God seems strange (Ps 51:4). Obviously, David has sinned against Bathsheba by making her pregnant, and he’s sinned against Uriah by arranging him to be killed. The reference to only sinning against God may be because of the secrecy in which David committed this offence. Uriah isn’t going to hold David accountable – he’s dead! Bathsheba isn’t going to hold him accountable – she’s pregnant and widowed! No one else is going to hold David accountable – he’s the king! David has got away with his sin!! In fact, he may even go down in history as the king who uses his power and wealth to save pregnant war widows from a destitute life. What a guy! Except, God knew what he’d done, and he sends his prophet Nathan to tell David all about it (2 Sam 12:1–16). What a guy, indeed!

Neither is David promising that he will never do anything like this again. The fact of the matter is, David’s character and being is defined by sin (v. 5), and this contrasts with God’s character and being who delights in truth and the inner being. There is a fundamental difference between God and David that will be an ongoing threat to their relationship. David can’t fix it, neither can he stop it. Even though David has committed the offence, it’s actually God who needs to do something about this situation.

3. God’s Forgiveness

For the relationship between God and David to continue, God needs to forgive David. God needs to regard David as though he had not offended (vv. 7, 9). God needs to remove the impact of the offence from David. Remember, David can’t fix it. God needs to allow David to rejoice in him again (v. 8). David can’t make up for what he did. God needs to allow David to come into his presence. God needs to keep giving David his Holy Spirit (v. 11). God needs to give David the joy of his salvation and allow David to delight in him (v. 12).

But notice at no point does God say that what David did doesn’t matter. At no point does God say to David, “There, there, David. I know you didn’t mean to make Bathsheba pregnant, or to have Uriah killed. It’s alright. Let’s pretend that never happened. Let’s pretend there was no real intent in what you did.” There are significant issues that need to be addressed for the relationship to continue. Part of forgiveness is developing a way forward. But, before a way forward can be developed, forgiveness must come first. There must be a commitment to continue the relationship as it has been before issues can start to be addressed.

4. The Way Forward

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. The way forward in this Psalm is for God to create a clean heart in David (v. 10). To give him a new understanding and to empower him to remain consistent in his relationship with God. This will enable David to teach others about God’s ways (v. 13), sing about God’s righteousness (v. 14), declare God’s praises (v. 15), and for David to remain humble and contrite before God rather than trying to cover up his sin (vv. 16– 17). As for God, he will delight again and his people (vv. 18–19). To have a way forward means putting a structure in place so the relationship can continue as it should.

Applying God’s Way of Conflict Resolution to Us

Apologising and forgiving can leave us feeling that the issue hasn’t been resolved and feeling insecure in our relationships. This may well be because we haven’t understood what apologising and forgiving do, and we expect them to do something that they are not intended to do. As children, when we’ve done something wrong, we taught to say “sorry”, then the offended party gives some kind of pardon, then we move on by pretending that the offence never happened. What we see in Psalm 51 is something very different.

An apology is not a means of righting a wrong. It’s not an “undo” button as we might find on a computer or electronic device. When we have committed an offence, we can’t fix it, or make it go away. It may be appropriate at times to make restitution or pay some kind of compensation. But that does not erase the offence. Neither is an apology a promise that nothing like that offence will ever happen again.

An apology is, firstly, an acknowledgment that there has been wrongdoing. It’s an acknowledgment that something has been done that is inappropriate and has caused hurt. Secondly, an apology is a petition to the offended person not to treat the offender according to the offence that has been committed. Instead, it’s a petition to the offended person to continue the relationship as it has been. The offender cannot do anything more than that. At which point, the offender is totally dependent on the offended person to forgive. Which is why it’s important to understand what forgiveness is.

Forgiveness is not forgetting. Neither is forgiveness pretending that no offence had ever occurred. Forgiveness cannot be based on a feeling or a promise that the offence won’t happen again. Forgiveness is a decision to treat the offending person as a whole even though you have been hurt, and not to define the person by their offence. At no point is forgiveness saying that the offence doesn’t matter, or the hurt has disappeared. All hurts take time to heal, and this is quite apart from the act of forgiveness. But healing starts with forgiveness.

Once forgiveness has been granted, and only when forgiveness has been granted, structures can be put in place to continue the relationship. In other words, what are you going to do next time there’s a risk of the offence reoccurring? As horrible and painful as being offended can be, there can also be a positive aspect to all this. That is, both the forgiven and the forgiver have an opportunity to learn about each other’s needs. It may be for the forgiven to ask about the needs of the forgiver, and for the forgiver to gently explain what their needs are. It may also be for the forgiver to learn what the needs of the forgiven are to support them and lessen the chances of the offence reoccurring. It could be that there’s a lot that can be done to support them (either as the forgiver or forgiven), or there may small amount. Whatever level of support, it’s going to communicate a lot to the other person that you love and care for them as they are.

At this point, you may protest saying that you can’t forgive what the other person has done. It’s too much and I’m too hurt! Granted, there are things incredibly difficult to forgive. Occasionally, it may be necessary to break relationships and establish boundaries as a way of moving forward. Even Jesus cites a reason for forgiveness not to be given (Luke 12:10). Yet, our capacity to forgive does not come from ourselves with some people having more capacity to forgive than others. It may be hard due to life experiences, but the capacity to forgive is the same for all believers. This is because our capacity to forgive comes from Jesus. Let me explain.

We have a massive debt of worship that we owe to God. John had a vision of heaven where God is being worshipped. While the worship is happening, a song rings out, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11). As the vision continues, the worship is so intense and so abundant that heaven is filled with praise and thanks that it spills over onto the earth where believers are caught up in this heavenly worship (5:13). It’s incredible to think that believers on earth here today are caught up in the worship that’s happening right now in heaven. God has given you everything that you own, has fulfilled your every need, and sustains your very life, so that you may thank and worship him.

So, here’s a test: before you go to bed tonight, stop and think how many times you were thankful to God today, either by your words or actions. Even if you make it to double figures, dare I say triple, compared to the all-encompassing, all enveloping worship that is happening in heaven, it simply does not rate! The fact that we don’t thank and praise God the way he rightfully deserves offends God and hurts him. This is an offence on an eternal scale.

Yet, God does not treat us as according to our offence (Ps 103:10; Eph 2:4–7). Instead, God has put a structure in place so that he can forgive us, move on, and enjoy being in relationship with his people. That in the crucifixion of Jesus, the penalty for sin has been paid, and in his resurrection certain hope of eternal life has been given. He has done this so we can be absolutely secure in our relationship with him with no condemnation to fear (Rom 8:1). This is what we remember at Easter. When we begin to understand just how much we have offended God simply by holding back worship that rightfully belongs to him, and the cost that was involved to forgive us, then any offence we need to forgive pales in comparison. In Jesus we have an incredible capacity to forgive. All we are doing is passing on the grace and forgiveness that God has given us in Jesus. It’s not from ourselves.

If we’re struggling with ideas of apologising and forgiving, maybe it’s because we really haven’t understood their function. An apology is simply an acknowledgement that something inappropriate has happened, and a petition to the offended person to continue the relationship. It doesn’t make the offence disappear. Forgiveness is a commitment to continue the relationship. It doesn’t take the hurt away, but it’s a start to healing. We put structures in place to support the other person in their need. Then we take the time to enjoy the relationship. This is God’s way of conflict resolution.

April 6, 2023 Posted by | Articles, Bible, Bible Exposition, Biblical Theology, Devotionals, King David, Religious, Sermons, Talks | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Theological Approach to Relating to People with Disabilities

This paper was presented at the “Men Meeting the Challenge Conference 2011” 3rd September, organised by “Men for Christ Ministries”.

 

The Bible does not have a simple category for people with disabilities. It does not address the issue of disabilities directly. However the Bible does recognize disadvantaged people groups. These included the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widowed. These were people that were at a social and economic disadvantage in the community of Israel. So it seems appropriate to also include disability among these disadvantaged groups; and by looking at how God approached the issue of disadvantaged people we can also see how He approaches the issue of disability.

 

In Leviticus 19:9-10 (23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21) the Bible speaks of these disadvantaged people and the provision that they were to enjoy. Scripture stipulated that food crops on the edge of fields, and any crops that were dropped or left behind in the process of harvesting, were to be left for disadvantaged groups. In this we recognize that being disadvantaged was not punishment from God. Nor were people who were disadvantaged to be treated like second classes citizens. They were recognized as members of the community. Note also, this provision was not a hand out. This provision did not allow these disadvantaged groups to sit around all day and do nothing. In order to eat, and provide for their family, they were to be involved with the on-goings of the surrounding community and they were to be responsible for their actions.

For our purposes of relating to people with disabilities, it is more then simply providing for immediate needs. There is a social dynamic that needs to be considered. That is, enabling the person to exercise their God-given abilities, as small as they may be, to become an active member within their community.

 

We see a similar approach in the ministry of Jesus. Through the gospels people are reconciled not only with God, but with other people. And how people are reconciled to other people reflects how they are reconciled to God. We see this in the way Jesus engages with people. In Matthew 20:29-34 we read how Jesus was going to Jericho when he met two blind men. And in this encounter we find Jesus asking the question ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ Now us modern, task orientated people, we read that and we might think, “Get with the program, Jesus!” It’s pretty obvious what these blind men want. They want their sights restored. So why doesn’t Jesus just heal them? Why does Jesus put the question when the answer is so obvious?

The answer to this is quite simple. This is possibly the first time in their lives that these two men have been treated like human beings. The culture tells a lot about the attitudes towards people with disabilities at the time. We know that from a well of information that such people were considered to be a blemish on the fabric of the holy society and it’s little wonder that the crowd told them to “shut up”. It was an embarrassing thing for a great teacher to be pestered by two blind men. Being pestered by two men who obviously been rejected by God because of their blindness!

So I want you to notice the gravity of what is happening here. It could be the first time that someone is placing themselves at the disposal of these two blind men. And it’s not just anyone who involves themselves to these two men. Matthew describes Jesus as the One who is faithful to God. So the one who is faithful to God is making himself available to people who are perceived as not faithful to God. For Jesus, it wasn’t simply a matter of enabling these two blind men to see, but to engage with them personally. And this was a restoration of their humanity as well.

 

Again we find the same thing happening in Luke 8:40-48 where we have a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. Now this is a woman of no status in the community. And she had no right to be in a place where she could access Jesus and touch him. All this woman wanted to do was get in, get healed, and get back out undetected. But Jesus concern goes beyond this woman’s physical needs. We find Jesus asking what seems like another ridiculous question, ‘Who was it that touched me?’ Now, if I was in the crowd and I heard that, I would have been rolling on the ground laughing! It is just a ridiculous thing to ask. There were people pushing and shoving Jesus in every direction. The scene of one of chaos, and out of all this chaos Jesus wants to know who touched him? It’s a ridiculous question. So why does Jesus ask the question? Again it’s about this personal interaction. It wasn’t enough for this woman to be healed of her bleeding. She needed her humanity restored. Someone unfit to be called a daughter of Israel, Jesus calls His daughter. She is restored into a relationship with Jesus. She becomes a daughter of The King! It’s more than having needs met.

 

Again in John 5 we find Jesus encountering yet another person with a disability. And again Jesus asked the man a pretty obvious question, “Do you want to be healed?’. But the question asked brings something out of the man’s character. That he doesn’t only need healing on the outside. He actually needs healing on the inside, and this is Jesus’ real concern.  Jesus heals the man and he is well. But what he says towards the end of this account is interesting. Jesus says to him, “Sin no more that nothing worse may happened to you.” What’s he  talking about? Is he talking about sinless perfection on earth? No he is talking about entering a right relationship with Him. You see, right through the account this man has been denying Jesus. His body might be healed. His physical needs may be met, and he is walking. But he is not right with God. Jesus is concerned with seeing him right with God. And when he says ‘so nothing worse may happen to you’ Jesus is not talking about a disability. He is talking about Hell. Jesus ultimate concern for this man is that he becomes right with God. It’s more than physical. It is more than having immediate needs met. It’s relational.

 

I’ve only picked out a few examples of how Jesus interacts with disadvantage people. If we read the gospels, we find again and again, it’s more than physical, and it’s more than immediate needs. It’s personal, and it’s eternal. If we are going to minister the gospel to people with disabilities, it needs not only to be physical. It also needs to be personal, and it needs to be eternal.

 

Well, how does this work in the church? In 1 Corinthians 12:22 Paul writes this, ‘On the contrary the parts from the body that seem weaker are indispensable and those parts of the body that we think are less honorable we bestowed greater honour. Our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty”. What does that mean? It is difficult to understand this verse in English mainly because it is difficult to understand this verse in the original Greek. And different commentators have different ideas of what Paul is on about, and I’m not entirely convinced. What I am convinced of is Paul’s vision for the church at Corinth was for each of the member of the church to serve other members so they can serve. The background that Paul was writing to was one where people were showing off so they can better themselves against other people. To this Paul says ‘no!’ Instead of showing off, use your abilities to help someone else use their abilities.

So I take it in the modern context, if someone is unable to contribute to the church, I do what it takes so they can contribute to the church. This may take more time, more effort, and even more resource. This can go against our task orientated culture but we need to stop and ask what are we trying to do? Are we trying to run programs? Or are we trying to build relationships? It may not be the quickest way of doing something. It might not be the most expedient way. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are building those relationships and we are building people up, presenting them mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).

 

By way of conclusion, I hope we can see that: firstly the relationships that we have with people with disabilities needs to be based on the relationship that God has with us – a relationship of reconciliation. And secondly I hope we can see that relating to people with disabilities is much, much more than just providing a service. It is about building relationships, serving people in the context of a relationship. Not a relationship in the context of their needs.

 

© The Student’s Desk, September 2011

September 2, 2011 Posted by | Bible, Biblical Theology, Essays, Religious, Talks | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment