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The fact of the Lord’s creation of us in His image and connecting us to one family does not mean we will always agree on everything. No two people will entirely lockstep with each other, and it’s exponentially more improbable that the grander human family will be of one mind about everything. But our differences should not blind us to the fact that we’re all in the same family.
Naturally, Adam’s tumble in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7) set the stage for disagreement. His fallenness affects all of us (Romans 5:12), and there will be times when we cannot agree with each other—for whatever reason. Because of the complexity of the disagreements and our fallen natures, there must be an agreed-upon way to disagree. We have to be civil.
That covenant of discourse has to be that we are the family of God regardless of our other affiliations or preferences. Without this bond we will splinter ourselves by submitting to any number of lesser authorities. What I’m suggesting here applies to our global, national, familial, and individual connections. The farther you go up this relational hierarchy, the more intense the difficulties become.
Each person’s call is to start with themselves, making a personal, unique assessment of whether you will submit to God’s authority over your life. Will you submit to God’s sovereignty, which minimally means, will He govern how you address others in His family? You will not be able to make global changes until you make personal ones.
Working through relational challenges always starts with an individual’s heart and how he (or she) will submit to God. Your submission to Him does not mean everything will be okay with others. Addressing horizontal relational problems starts with how you’re going to relate to God. You cannot be out-of-step with Him and expect to be in the right step with others (Romans 1:18).
As your heart falls in-line with God and His Word, you will begin to grow in affection toward His creation. An example of this is if you love the father of any family, you will respect his children. Contrariwise, if you do not like that father, it will be challenging for you to like his children. This linkage of affection with a human family illustrates how you will think about and react to God’s global family.
A practical assessment that you can make today is to think about how you relate to those closest to you. For most of you, it will be your family. How you interact with your family members provides you clues as to how you respond to those outside your family. Kind begets kind: if you’re a loving, helpful, and humble friend with those close to you, it will spill out to God’s broader community.
Some folks will tell you that they can get along with others but not with their family. As you listen to them, you’ll hear them talk from a victim vantage point, as though all the fault is in their family. Whenever a person talks about relationship problems by letting you know what others did to them while not speaking to the possibility of any of their guilt, you have a misguided person on your hands who could be tinkering with delusions.
I have told our children that how they relate to each other inside our home reflects how their future marriage and family will look. They will carry “who they are” to their future family, and if they have not learned how to problem-solve within complicated, personal, relational constructs as children, they will have a hard time doing it later. Too many people live in the delusion that changing their current relational connections will make life better for them. It will for a while. But unless they make practical changes, there will be different iterations of similar dysfunctions in future friendships.
If you ask our children what one of the worst things that I would tell them when they had relational dust-ups with each other, they would say, “Daddy would always say, ‘Work it out.'” One of them would come to me, letting me know that there was an issue with a sibling. Like most adults, they started with what the other person did to them. It would be exceptional for them to say, “Hey dad, I did this, and [sibling] reacted this way to me.”
In nearly every case, they were little prosecutors, letting me know about their victimization and how I must deal with the offender. I would say to the complaining child, “You go and work it out,” which—from their perspective—was an acute form of punishment. The complaining child would return to the fray. It would be exceptional for them ever to come back to me for more input. There were a few cases where they could not “work it out,” but I don’t remember any of those instances.
Today, they have a deep affection for each other, and they never stay mad with each other. Ever! I’m not sure of all the ways they worked it out or all the things they did, but they learned to resolve conflict, to the point that there is little of it in our home today. Granted, part of how they learned to do this is by the modeling of their parents. We did not give them a blank slate with “work it out” scratched across the top of it. They have seen their parents work it out many times.
We knew that who they were as kids today would be what they exported to others tomorrow. If you have internal chaos, you must make the necessary changes, or you’re going to export your turmoil to others. We wanted our children to learn how to work it out because we assumed they would marry (a sinner) in the future; it was vital for them to get their “relational problem-solving reps” in before that hopeful day.
Too many folks on social media platforms have not made this connection—who they are is what they export. They are angry people, spilling out their frustration to God’s community, even strangers. You hear it in their tones, frustrations, and lack of discretion. The state of our country or the horrendous things they see on the Internet are not the causes of what they say on their platforms.
If you say anything to them, the typical reply is that their anger is righteous. I have never seen so much righteous anger in my life. Righteousness is all over social media, spilling from the hearts of God’s redeemed children. I hope that these frustrated people will be more reflective while asking others about their tones. Perhaps they are not as righteous as they want to believe. Everybody cannot be that righteous. Before I put myself in the camp of the righteous, I would do more investigation.
If you desire to investigate yourself regarding how you interact with others, whether in your family or God’s human family, there are three common ways folks respond to these relational opportunities. I’m sure you can think of others, but our pastor shared these three in one of his sermons (09.28.20), and I want to share them with you.
A rational person deals with relationships biblically. They understand the two great commandments and how to live them out practically. Loving your neighbor as you love yourself is treating others the way you want them to treat you. This kind of relational attitude toward a fellow human being is transformative, and it calls the kind favor of God down on the person who lives this way.
The rational person also knows that they may not change the crimes they see in their neighborhood or nation, but the biblical person strives not to become the very thing they despise. They have seen too many folks turn into a unique, evil iteration of what troubles them. Hating hate with more hate makes you hateful, hurtful, and unhelpful to humanity.
They have also felt the stinging temptation to justify, rationalize, or blame their harsh responses on the evil they are confronting. Mixing truth with untruth creates a fiction that leads to delusions. Our loyalty to ourselves can be so intense that we don’t want to take that look into the mirror. The impulse is to re-edit the truth about ourselves. If that happens, you will step onto a path that will grow darker with each re-edit.
What do your interactions within your family reveal about you? The best way to answer this question is to let them answer it for you. Perhaps you need to preface your query with something like, “If you knew I would not retaliate against you or hold a grudge, and you had assurances of total freedom to speak freely, how would you answer this question?” Then you ask them to share your tendencies and impulses toward them, especially when you don’t get what you want.
If you want to explore your leadership competencies more fully, what if you answer a similar question from above but apply it to the global community? What do your interactions within the human family reveal about you? Perhaps you can begin with your neighborhood, local church, work environment, and extended family members. Also, add your social media interactions and other relational contexts where you engage God’s creative work.
A substantial study about God making us in His image would serve you well. If you don’t see the racist, rioter, and righteous person similarly—made in God’s image, you need to promptly address this matter because how you think about a person determines how you respond to them. Sadly, too many of us do not see the value of God’s work as much as we see Adam’s fallenness. Both are true, but only one should form our primary presupposition.