Conflict part 3: conflict within families

Sometimes conflict arises even in one’s family. And here I am not thinking just of extremely dysfunctional families like Joseph’s (yes, your brothers selling you into slavery is certainly dysfunctional). Who is closer, and to whom is one more vulnerable, than a person whom one loves deeply and whose words matter most? The biblical patriarchs sometimes experienced passionate marital disagreements:

Gen 16:5 (ESV): “Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!’”

Gen 21:10-11 (NIV): Sarah “said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.” (But God told him to listen to Sarah.)

Or Gen 30:1-2 (NIV): “When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?””

Avoiding open conflict, Rebekah simply accomplished her plan for Jacob behind Isaac’s back, since he did not listen more directly to her revelation about the elder serving the younger.

The ideal, of course, is 1 Pet 3:7: husbands be sensitive to your wives so that nothing hinders your prayers (for God heeds the righteous, not the evil, 3:12).

Again, divine wisdom warns us about harmful words:

Prov 12:18: “Rash words are like thrusts from a sword, but the wise person’s tongue brings healing.”

Prov 18:21 NIV: “The tongue has the power of life and death …”

What about needless conflict in the family and its health consequences? Although framed from the man’s perspective in Proverbs, the principles should apply both directions.

Prov. 12:4, NRSV: “A good wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.”

14:1, NRSV: “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands.”

17:1, NRSV: “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.”

21:9, NRSV: “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a contentious wife.”

Parent-child relationships can also be stressful (although as parents it may help work some spiritual maturation in us!):

Prov 10:1 (NASB): “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.”

Prov 15:20 (NRSV): “A wise child makes a glad father, but the foolish despise their mothers.”

Prov 17:25 (NRSV): “Foolish children are a grief to their father and bitterness to her who bore them.”

Prov 23:24 (NRSV): “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who begets a wise son will be glad in him.”

Prov 27:11 (NRSV): “Be wise, my child, and make my heart glad, so that I may answer whoever reproaches me.”

Prov 28:7 (NRSV): “Those who keep the law are wise children, but companions of gluttons shame their parents.”

Eph 6:4: “Fathers, do not stir up/stoke your children’s anger …”

The Bible shows us that conflict happens within families. But it also invites us to a higher ideal of resolving differences with mutual love, respect, and servanthood. For example:

Prov 31:28 (ESV): “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her”

Eph 4:26-27 (NIV): “… Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Eph 4:29: “Don’t speak what harms others. Instead speak what is good for them, building them up and meeting their needs …”

Eph 4:32 (NIV): “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Eph 5:2, 21: “Act in love … submitting to one another out of respect for Christ”

Eph 5:25 (NRSV): “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Mark 10:43-44 (NRSV): “… whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

John 13:14 (NRSV): “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

(P.S., on an anticlimactic note about these lists of verses, I mix and match some translations on my computer more based on ease of access than based on recommending one translation over another.)

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