As much as we might hate it, conflict isn’t bad. It’s just not pleasant. But if the highest “good” in our lives is to avoid unpleasantness, then we are headed for either eternal delusion or a rude awakening.
I’ll go even further and say that conflict is necessary for a “happy” life! Yep, if you’re going to be “happy” you NEED conflict. Just like a muscle doesn’t get stronger unless it has resistance, so your life can be strengthened by conflict. It all depends on if you know how to navigate conflict well!
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 11:8-23:
BRETHREN, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head because of the angels. (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not dependent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man was now born of woman. And all things are from God.) Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is to her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God. But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I have received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.
St. Paul is continuing to confront the Corinthians with their basic motivations in their behavior. Disregarding each other in the name of “freedom” has become the norm at Corinth, and this has caused “factions” to arise among the people. Interestingly enough, this factious conflict is seen most often, not in veiled or unveiled ladies; not in long-haired men, but at the Eucharist! In another place, St. Paul confronts the Corinthians with their practice that wealthier members of the community are turning the Eucharistic “meal” into some sort of banquet where they are eating sumptuously while poorer members were left unfed. Notice St. Paul confronts the Corinthians in the place from which their actions begin – in their attitudes and their hearts. The divisions flow from who they are, not what they do. Their actions are only the end result of their unconverted motives!
Here, conflict serves to reveal, as conflict always does, the true beliefs of those in conflict. And this conflict offers the Corinthians a choice: Will they amend their unloving motives or will they continue in the delusion that they are a church when it’s obvious by their behavior that they are NOT, in fact, “church.” Harsh confrontation, I know, but how are we to remedy such an illness without strong medicine?
St. Paul, as a good father, brings the whole community to the conflict necessary to heal the delusion, and he uses the strong words here to rouse these dear, deluded, Corinthians from the deadly slumber of unthinking actions. And for us, he invites us to see past the temporary pain of current conflict to the lessons preserved in such a “gift” we are meant to learn, primarily about ourselves, in the middle of the conflict. So, what are the conflicts in your life teaching you about yourself?
Today, God loves you so much that He will waste NOTHING in your life to teach you and bring you to a life of repentance, humility, and love. And He will allow even painful conflict to invite you to this destruction of delusion and self-knowledge that leads to repentance. He knows that you were made to be Orthodox on purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, avoiding conflict isn’t realistic. In fact, I now know that conflict is necessary if we are ever going to have a deeper and more mature communion. But I’m afraid of conflict and not confident that I’ll handle the conflict well. Please give me the strength to live in the fire of real relationships and be made more like You in my connections with others. Amen.