Q. OK. We’re “reconciled.” I guess. But how could we ever trust one another again?
A. Trust God. Love People.
So how do Christians rebuild trust with one another in the aftermath of church conflict, even if problems have been resolved and words of reconciliation spoken? The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector found at Luke 18:9-14 is instructive. While the parable addresses the problem of seeing self-righteousness as the path to right standing before God, it is equally a pattern for recovery from the effects of church conflict:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like all other men — robbers, evil doers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Humility is the healing balm for the continuing malady of the loss of trust. Genuine humility calls us to put our trust in God, not in our own hearts. Our knowledge and evaluation of our church’s situation is imperfect. It is folly to put all of our trust in ourselves:
He who trusts in himself is a fool … Proverbs 28:26
… lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
Humility seeks relationship with former combatants. Rather than putting our trust in people who agree with us and affirm only our perspectives and our convictions, humility calls us to seek counsel from people of varying perspectives, but ultimately never to put our trust in others either. Trusting inappropriately in people leads to disaster:
This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength…’ Jeremiah 17:5
Fear of man will prove to be a snare… Proverbs 29:25
True humility trusts in God; its focus is on the Lord. In faith, we are called to give God our worries, fears, and doubts. We can trust that he is the Redeemer who will right every wrong in this life or in the life to come—for every wrong has either already been paid for at the cross, or will be paid for in hell. Therefore, we can turn away from any spiritual adultery related to vengeance and prize Jesus above even our own vindication! We can trust in that which is unseen more than in that which is seen (Hebrews 11:1). We can determine what would please and honor God and then do it. Trusting God is our only truly safe haven.
But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. Jeremiah 17:7
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9
To trust in God is to grow in spiritual maturity. When we trust God, we pray. When we trust God, we stop valuing the things that the world values (comfort, success, recognition, fame) and we begin to value the things that Jesus values (sacrifice, service, humility, love). We start to view ourselves as the “chief of all sinners” and we throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus and wash his feet with our tears. Our weeping comes, but we have the hope of joy in the morning. When we are living by humble trust in God, we overflow with love for our neighbor and our enemy. Then, when we see our fellow brothers and sisters also trusting God, we can begin to trust each other again as well. Trusting God, especially while we are in the midst of conflict, is indispensable to redeeming church conflict because it opens to us the reality of again being able to trust others.
(c) Tara Barthel & David Edling, “Redeeming Church Conflicts” (Baker Books, 2012)