If a couple or family says they have never experienced interpersonal conflict, they probably lie about other things, too. Either that or they have such a superficial relationship that they never get close enough to experience friction! When people get together, conflict is simply inevitable. No two of us will ever see eye-to-eye about everything.
Conflict is scary for most of us because we have seen it mismanaged in painful, abusive, or destructive ways. Many instinctively avoid conflict because they’re afraid of getting hurt again. These people need to hear the “good news” about interpersonal conflict, and be taught how to manage conflict effectively. They also need to understand that it is a divinely ordained means of producing growth and intimacy. The health of any relationship is determined not by the absence of conflict, but by the presence of good conflict resolution.
Here are three general observations concerning the value of conflict.
First, conflict is a natural, normal reality in our fallen world. Due to our human limitations and predisposition to sin, it is impossible for us to relate to others in perfect peace and harmony at all times. Accordingly, we shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty when we experience conflict. Instead, we should realise that the presence of conflict proves that we are alive and kicking. We need to learn how to be compatible, not combative.
Second, conflict is scary and is often mismanaged in painful, destructive, or abusive ways. In some respects, conflict is very much like fire. Fire is neither intrinsically good nor bad; it is simply raw energy. Without the discovery and harnessing of fire, cultural anthropologists tell us that civilisation itself could not have been developed. However, the same fire that can warm us can also burn us when it’s raging out of control. In the same way, the raw energy and intense heat of conflict can deeply heal us or severely harm us. Everything depends on how it is managed and directed.
Finally, conflict is a divinely ordained, necessary means of producing growth and intimacy. It has been said that Jesus came to both comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. If you think about His ministry, you’ll see that He did each of these about half of the time. Everywhere Jesus went, He was either resolving or creating conflict. Though He is the Prince of Peace, He once declared that He came not to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10: 34-38). Additionally, when we consider the Creator’s universe, we realise that nothing in it grows by any means other than conflict—from the single cell that must divide itself in order to reproduce, on up. Unresolved conflict always interferes with and impedes God-ordained growth and transformation in our lives.
Truth is, conflict happens—again, it’s to be expected. At the same time, it doesn’t take God by surprise. He uses it to build character and faith. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).