Some Reflections By
GARY RAY BRANSCOME
“From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members.” (James 4:1)
Civil authorities could deal with many problems more effectively if there was a general acknowledgement of the reality of sin, a more comprehensive awareness of its consequences, and a better grasp of its significance as a factor in human nature. In fact, the denial of sin by those in authority, in many ways, leaves our society powerless to deal with the problems it causes. Nevertheless, while we cannot change the way that others deal with problems, we can change the way that we deal with one another. And the purpose of this essay is to look into some of the causes of conflict between individuals, while presenting ideas that may prove helpful in dealing with it.
RECOGNIZING CONFLICT AS WAR
Since the lusts that produce personal conflict are not substantially different from those that produce national conflict, some very clear parallels can be drawn. In the first place, just as every government has its own dominion, every individual has his or her own dominion. Furthermore, just as each government is free to exercise control over its own dominion, each individual is free to exercise control over his own dominion. Finally, just as national conflict arises when one government oversteps its boundaries or interferes in the affairs of another, personal conflict arises when one person oversteps his boundaries or interferes in the affairs of another. Therefore, if you are to get along with other people, you need to respect the boundaries of others, by allowing them the right to control those things that are within their circle of authority. Nevertheless, there are some instances in which circles of authority overlap.
Because a father's authority overlaps that of his child, he may overrule some of the decisions made by the child. For the same reason, your boss may overrule some of your decisions. However, the overlapping of authority between husband and wife is a little more complex, for it is a shared authority not just a tiered authority. In fact, many decisions regarding the home must be shared. Nevertheless, the key to cooperation is respect for each other’s circle of authority, and that respect is only present when willing cooperation is being sought (as opposed to submission). Moreover, skill in gaining the willing cooperation of others goes hand in hand with learning to deal with them in Christian love. And that involves such things as making a polite request rather than a demand, being patient rather than pushy, and respecting someone’s right to say no.
Husbands and wives also need to have some understanding of the differences in their perspectives. For example: If a woman tries to get her husband to yield, by using the same behavior that she might yield to, she is going to get the opposite of what she wants. Yet many women do just that, over and over, and cannot understand why that behavior has the opposite effect on a man. Nevertheless, by trying to bring him under her authority, she threatens his manhood.
Whenever, someone tries to get their own way by fussing, it is an act of aggression, for they are attempting to extend their domain over someone else. Furthermore, aggressors are always in the wrong. Nevertheless, the person guilty of aggression will often blame the conflict on the one who resists their aggression, by accusing the other party of being stubborn or unreasonable. Of course, that twisted way of thinking is just as absurd as blaming wars on the nations that resist aggression. Nevertheless, because of sin self-deception is deeply rooted in our carnal nature, and can only be overcome by people who are willing to condemn and thus correct their own sinful thoughts.
Sometimes conflicts are caused when one person tries to force another to do them a favor. In other words, they fuss at someone because they want that person to do something for them. Of course, the very idea of trying to force a favor is a contradiction in terms, for if it were really a favor force would not be needed. In fact, common sense should tell us that we are more likely to get a favor from someone we are nice to than from someone we treat badly. Nevertheless, because of sin, such irrational and self-defeating behavior is all too prevalent. We ask someone to do something and fuss if they are reluctant to do it. However, because that behavior is rooted in carnality it always brings the opposite of what we really want. We want cooperation, and we get resistance. We want something in a hurry, and have a delay because of argument. Our fussing only hardens the other person in their resolve not to cooperate, yet without God's help we are too dull witted to realize why.
If you really want someone’s help, it would be far wiser to:
1. Ask in a polite way. Irritable demands are abrasive, and usually cause the other person to raise a mental wall of resistance.
2. Allow them the right to say no. If you do not cause an argument, you will be able to ask again later without causing resentment. People often need time to adjust to an idea or change of plan, however, if you are pushy they will resist rather than adjust. Respect their circle of authority, it would be wrong for you to invade their territory.
3. Be patient. If they agree to do the favor, allow them to fit it in at their convenience. Pressure will just irritate them, and may cause them to change their mind about helping you. It is all right to remind them from time to time, but have a kind patient tone in your voice. An impatient and irritated tone or harsh and abrasive words only produce resistance. Always be kind, never nag, and if you mention someone’s promise to help make it clear that you are not pressuring them.
4. Always show gratitude. When they do help you out let them know that you appreciate it. No one likes to do something for a person who is ungrateful.
The rules I have just given are nothing more than the golden rule applied to an everyday situation. With God’s help, our homes can be the happiest place this side of heaven. However, we need to take our faith seriously, have a regular prayer life, and pray for our homes.
A WISE RULER
Because God has made the husband the head of the house, he is to be obeyed. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between civil obedience and servile obedience. Since the relationship of a man to his wife is to be a picture of Christ's relationship to His church, the authority that God has given the husband is not the authority to demand, “Fetch my slippers”, but the authority to make rules, punish wrongdoing, and settle disputes. In other words, a man's wife and children are to be his subjects (not his slaves), and his treatment of them will determine if he is a wise ruler or an evil tyrant. A husband who terrorizes his family, while treating his wife and children like inferiors, is just as evil as a ruler who terrorizes his subjects while treating them like inferiors. Likewise, a husband who fusses and yells while making his family fear his temper and moods, is just as evil as a king who fusses and yells while making those around him fear his temper and moods. Just as a wise ruler respects each subject's circle of authority, a wise father will refrain from simply imposing his will for no reason. Instead he will listen to what his family says, while trying to be fair and considerate of their needs.
THE LUSTS THAT WAR IN OUR MEMBERS
Many unnecessary arguments are caused when one member of the family “feels” angry or argumentative and thus continually provokes those around them. However, because contentious feelings are of the flesh, they should be recognized as lusts. Furthermore, we need to realize that there is a progression of evil, as lusts produce evil thoughts that in turn produce evil words and actions. For that reason, if we are to have harmony in our homes, we need to stop this progression of evil before it leads to words or actions. Because our very nature is sinful, we may not be able to keep evil lusts or thoughts from entering our heart, but with God's help we can dismiss them from our mind before they produce evil words and actions.
One way to get rid of sinful feelings is to change our thinking. For example, it is easy to feel irritated or angry if a baby cries continuously. However, you may have experienced the change that takes place when you remind yourself that the poor little thing is not intending any harm, but simply needs help and does not know any other way to express that need. Since many have experienced how rapidly that little change in thinking causes anger to cease, the world should have caught on by now. However, many people are still being told to “vent their anger,” and that is terrible advice. In fact, many homes have been turned into a war zone by the strife that results when certain members “vent their anger.” In contrast, a much more effective way to deal with anger is to simply dismiss it from our heart by changing our thinking. I know that this method of dealing with anger works because I have done it for years, and I also know that prayer is of great help in changing one's mood or dealing with evil feelings. Therefore, instead of making those around you miserable when you are in a bad mood, get off to yourself, calm down, and seek God’s help in learning to dismiss anger, or in changing your thinking.
[Note: Shortly after I wrote this essay I received an issue of “Readers Digest” that contained an article saying some of the same things that I have just said. Of course, I was elated to say the least, especially since I have seen some of the harm done by “venting anger.” There were some minor differences. For example, what I call “changing your thinking” that author calls “reframing the situation.” However, that author even mentioned that prayer helps to change moods. If you are interested, that article was entitled “What's Your Emotional IQ”, and it appeared in the January 1996 edition of the Readers Digest.]
You will be able to deal with unpleasant or sinful feelings more effectively, if you realize that circumstances do not cause you to feel a certain way (depressed, angry, fearful, discouraged, etc.). Instead, the way you feel has to do with the way you are reacting to those circumstances, and in the same situation someone else might react quite differently. Once this is understood, you can deal with your feelings by changing the way you react, instead of waiting for the circumstances to change. That is important because, even though circumstances are usually beyond our control we can usually change our reaction to a situation by changing how we view the situation (“reframing it”), and, to that end, prayer is essential. I have had depression or discouragement lift almost instantly after fervently pleading with God to remove the depression. Try it!
In order to deal effectively with the sinful urges and moods of our flesh, it is important to learn how to think reflectively. And, we learn to think reflectively when we begin to think about our feelings (in a detached way) instead of letting our feelings control what we think. For example: If you begin to feel angry because you have made several mistakes and things are not going right, step back mentally. Instead of allowing anger to cause you to cuss or fuss, start wondering why frustration causes anger. Could it be that your flesh wants the entire creation to bow to your will as if you were God? (Isaiah 14:12-15) At the same time, remind yourself that getting upset will just cause more mistakes. By thinking about our feelings, instead of letting our feelings control what we think, we can detach what we feel from what we say and do. For that reason, learning to think reflectively is the first step in learning to think before you speak or act, and that is basic to mature spiritual behavior.
Many of the inner conflicts that cause emotional distress stem from three key lusts of the mind: Pride, fear, and sloth. Because these lusts are at the root of much of the world’s anxiety and strife, the book of Proverbs has a good deal to say about them. However, you need to understand how all three of them work together to create conflict. Let us, therefore, consider a situation in which a teenage girl feels that she must have a certain fashion in order to be accepted. On one hand, she is driven by a fear of rejection if she does not get the fashion. On the other hand, that fear is inflamed by a desire to impress others (pride). Working together, these lusts (pride and fear) produce an inner anxiety that makes strife with her parents easy to justify. What she does not understand, is that what she fears is what she imagines, not what actually comes to pass. And, to those who lack understanding, that imagined future often seems more real than reality itself.
While the lusts of the mind (pride, fear and sloth) are much stronger in some people than in others, all of us have to deal with the inner conflicts that they produce. That being the case, let us consider a situation in which a person feels driven to achieve by a false sense of pride, while being hindered by overblown fears and a lack of personal energy (sloth). The inner conflict that these lusts create can drive a person to try to be somebody they are not. In fact, they may go to ridiculous lengths in order to impress others. However, they usually wind up appearing foolish because they refuse to face the facts, profess to know what they do not know, and deny the truth about their own fears and limitations (Barney Fife).
Focussing on the fact that these lusts can be much stronger in some people than in others let me give some examples. While many people do not particularly like work (sloth), I know of one person who robbed a store near my home because he wanted to go to prison so that he would not have to work. In fact he quit a good job and tried to get on welfare before deciding to rob the store. I also know of a family that was afraid to go to church (fear) because years earlier their home had been broken into while they were at church. They were “religious” people, yet they were terrified by the fear of being robbed.
As I pointed out earlier – in regard to a teenager who thinks that she will be rejected if she does not get a particular fashion – what people fear is rarely what actually happens. In fact, because the mind pictures an imaginary future (in which what is feared becomes reality) much of the anxiety that people suffer has more to do with that imaginary future than the real world. Nevertheless, the lusts of the mind not only make it hard for a person to think clearly, but can totally cripple someone who does not clearly distinguish between fact and imagination. Moreover, Satan can use the anxiety that a person feels to torment them into committing evil acts. In fact, Saul may have been tormented in that way. We know from Scripture that he raged with anger, after being told that his son would not inherit the throne. His pride clearly rebelled at God’s decision, and he was frustrated by his inability to change it. At the same time Satan used his pride, and his fear that his son would not inherit the throne, to control him; thus leading him to justify killing David.
Since secular psychologists have not yet discovered how much of human behavior can be explained by these three lusts, Christians need to reject their confused theories and rethink the facts in the light of Scriptural truth. Not only does the Bible provide the foundation for a far superior understanding of human nature, but the fields of psychology and psychiatry have their roots in ignorance. While the views of Freud are no longer as highly esteemed as they once were, when they were in vogue they were the justification for much social evil. At the same time, psychiatrists not only aided both Hitler and Stalin, but initiated much of the genocide carried out by the Nazis.
Many domestic arguments begin when a person uses harsh words and fussing or rude replies to convey the message that he is frustrated, in a hurry, or wants to be left alone. The person using the harsh words assumes that others will respond by leaving him alone, yet, in most cases, their actual reaction is to strike back. Usually the initial harshness is taken as a personal attack, one harsh word leads to another and the fight is on. Therefore, the intelligent thing to do is to have enough mental alertness to think before you speak. Then, instead of answering harshly, simply tell the other person in a calm polite voice that you are feeling irritable or are in a hurry and would like to be left alone. Never expect other people to read your mind.
A number of arguments start over how something is remembered. One person says, “Last month you said such and such,” the other replies, “I did not,” and the fight is on. It is an adult version of the childish, “Yes you did, no I did not” argument. And it proves nothing but the stupidity of the people involved. Since the problem has to do with memory, each remembering what was said differently, such arguments could be avoided if people would say, “I seem to remember you saying,” instead of dogmatically declaring, “Last month you said.” We should never confuse our own remembrance with absolute truth.
The same holds true for disagreements over the meaning of words. One person says, “You do not have to be so fussy” and the other snaps back, “I’m not being fussy, I’m just concerned.” It then goes into a “yes you are, no I’m not” debate. In this case the argument would be over the definition of “fussing” rather than memories, yet many such arguments could be avoided if the people involved just had the presence of mind to realize the futility of arguing over whose definition is the correct definition. In this case, we also need to recognize how a denial of sin is intertwined with the controversy. For a person who fusses, yet denies that it is fussing, is denying any wrongdoing, and that is dishonest (Jeremiah 17:9).
To give another example, suppose that one person says, “Humanism is a religion” while another says, “No it’s not.” The conversation then goes into a “Yes it is, No it is not” debate. As with the previous examples, the problem has to do with confusing one’s own world-view with absolute truth. Therefore, many such arguments could be avoided if people would just learn to say, “I think” instead of making dogmatic assertions.
Just as it only takes one aggressor to start a war, it only takes one contentious person to start an argument. Therefore, if we want peace in our homes every member has to cooperate in seeking that goal. That means, in part, that we all need to care more about peace and harmony than about getting our own way. We also need to look at our own faults, be honest about what was said, and continually seek God’s help in prayer. At the same time, we need to be considerate of each other, and try to see each other’s point of view. In fact, getting along with others is often as simple as caring enough about them to want to understand why they think as they do.