Jeremy Yeckley is a friend of Tim Madden, and a guest blogger from time to time on Maddening Theology. He works with Tabernacle Bible Church in Honesdale, PA, and Foundations Christian Counseling across Northeastern Pennsylvania, and around the country. He is a gifted counselor, communicator, and leader. You can read Part 1 & Part 2 of this series.
Only the Bible presents a framework for resolving conflict that is comprehensive in scope, fluid in application, and still structured to withstand the wide variations and intensity of conflicts individuals face today. This biblical framework seeks to manage conflict well, but also promises to eventually resolve it completely.
The ministry of reconciliation is the means God has made for humanity to no longer be enemies of God and each other. The ministry of reconciliation is seen throughout Scripture but is first introduced in Genesis 3. The same chapter that records the destruction of sin in human relationships presents a model of hope and peace for responding to relational conflict.
God’s approach to conflict is instantly contrasted with Adam and Eve’s approach. They sought to avoid the conflict while God directly confronted the issue. God’s approach is direct, but it is also gentle and collaborative. God initiates the confrontation by coming to them first with a series of questions for which He already knew the answer too (v. 9, 11, and 13).
He had every right to wait for them to come to Him begging for mercy. He had every right to start with harshly condemning them with consequences. Instead He asked questions that encouraged a collaborative dialogue on the issue. Even though Adam and Eve did not respond to the questions appropriately, the questions still helped create a conversation that strategically walked Adam and Eve through processing their current situation.
What is most exciting about the Genesis 3 account is the introduction of a promise through the seed of Eve. This promise seems to place humanity in a superior position for battling against the curse of sin and the conflict that followed it (v. 15). The full narrative of how Eve’s seed would battle against sin had not yet been revealed, but many theologians believe this is the first messianic prophecy and alludes to the coming of Christ as the seed of Eve that would be victories over sin. God’s willingness to enter into our conflict and offer a promise of Hope that would crush the head of our enemy is testimony to God’s character and an act of commitment to walk with us through our conflict.
His merciful and gracious response was not void of consequences, but even in light of the tragedy sin brought into humanity, God practically reinforces His warm and collaborative engagement with Adam and Eve. God graciously continues to meet their needs in a very pragmatic manner by clothing them with better garments. This act introduces the role that sacrifice will be required to cover the consequences of sin and would be a public reminder of their sin.
It is also worthwhile to address how their exile from the Garden of Eden and access to the Tree of Life were gracious, merciful acts. They deserved immediate and eternal damnation, but instead, God delays the punishment of sin and they are permitted to live a long life on the earth (Genesis 5:5). Therefore, we can look at Genesis three as an introduction to part of God’s plan to actively take part in restoring hope and peace to humanity’s greatest relational conflict.
God continues through the Old Testament to affirm His people of a plan that will provide hope. The journey proves to be challenging for Adam and Eve. They both witness the aggression of conflict grow as their seed, which is intended to be a promise of blessing, turns on each other (Genesis 4). Even with conflict growing we see God actively at work protecting the promise of salvation through a future seed (Genesis 7). The theme is further developed in the covenant God makes with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).
This passage promises that the blessing through the seed would impact the whole world. It is not until many years later that we read about God affirming His promise of a seed through the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21&22). However, Isaac himself is not the complete answer to our conflict. This pattern of a continued line through Abraham’s seed to a singular seed is tracked through Abraham’s descendants and built upon through the pages of Scripture. Isaiah 53 is probably the clearest Old Testament account that addresses how the promised Seed, The Messiah, will bear the sins of the world. These passages and many more outline the role and prophecies associated with Christ as the Messiah and seed of Eve that was promised to bring hope and peace to a world consumed in conflict.
Christ’s role in the ministry of reconciliation can be seen in many New Testament passages (II Corinthians 5:11-6:2, Colossians 1:15-29, Romans 5). These passages identify the ministry of reconciliation as God’s response to the conflict between Himself and humanity. God chooses to pursue reconciliation with humanity. All three passages referenced address humanity’s initial condition as being alienated or at enmity with God because of sin (II Corinthians 5:19, Colossians 1:21, Romans 5:6, 8, 10, 12-14). Through the ministry of reconciliation, humanity is transformed into a new creation and their sin is forgiven, no longer imputed to them (II Corinthians 5:17, 19, Colossians 1:22, Romans 5:6-11, 18-21).
Reconciliation in this context is expressed to all of humanity (II Corinthians 5:14-15, 19, Colossians 1:20, Romans 5:18), but there is a condition for experiencing reconciliation completely. Reconciliation is only absolutely attributed to those who embrace and believe in the gospel of Christ by grace through faith (II Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 1:20-23, Romans 5:1-2). Reconciliation also functions as both a one-time accomplished ministry of salvation (II Corinthians 5:18, 20, Romans 5:10-11, Colossians 1:22) and an ongoing ministry of sanctification (II Corinthians 5:19, Colossians 1:23-25, Romans 5:3-5). In Colossians 1:20 the scope and impact of reconciliation is extended beyond humanity and includes all of creation on earth and in heaven.
The ministry of reconciliation mirrors a number of similar responses seen in the Garden of Eden and shares a number of similar techniques used in the collaborative approaches for resolving conflict. In Genesis 3, God is the one who takes initiative to gently move towards the offending party. God directly confronts the conflict and makes a resolve for restoring everything through His own Son. God made Christ, the Promised Seed and Messiah, the object of wrath for our sin and the means for restoring all things back to Himself.
God’s response is collaborative with Christ and engages others. God places a high value on relationship and goals by taking initiative and ownership for producing a comprehensively restorative outcome with those who have sinned against Him. Christ’s ministry of reconciliation also resembles the function of a mediator who is reconciling all of creation back to God. These characteristics of reconciliation were not grounded in secular approaches but have been modeled by God as a pattern to be imitated for restoring relationships.
God’s plan for resolving conflict does not include a simple 12 step program or man-made technique. God is much more personal in his approach. He chose to resolve our conflict through the sacrifice of His Son’s life. This act demonstrates the extent of sacrificial love necessary for learning to thrive in the presence of personal conflict. These truths should transform how Christians experience conflict with each other. As the body of Christ, we must give up the conflict of this world and walk in a peaceable manner under Christ (Eph. 4:1-16). It is through God’s transforming ministry of reconciliation that Christians can resolve to think of conflict as an opportunity and not a problem.
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