First Mennonite Church
June 14, 2015
The Journey from Conflict to Forgiveness (I)
Text: Genesis 1: 26-31
One of the topics submitted for me to address is forgiveness and the possibility of forgetting the injury, humiliation, or damage caused by the offense. Is it possible to forgive and to forget the offense?
Let me say at the very start that forgiveness is only one part of a complex process of dealing with conflict. When we speak of conflict, such terms as: peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, restoration, healing, trust, enemy, retaliation, etc. come into view. Conflicts can be personal. I mean a person can have internal conflicts: remorse, guilt, or shame, to name a few. The most common type of conflict that comes to our mind when we talk about forgiveness is interpersonal conflict. This type of conflict is common in the context of interpersonal relationships, such as between husband and wife, among family members, in work-place among co-workers or workers and boss, in the church, or among neighbors, etc. Most often the church only speaks of two kinds of conflicts: the personal and interpersonal. Yet, there are even more complex types of conflicts that we seldom explore or dare to consider. These types of conflict can be racial conflict, political or ideological conflicts, national or international conflicts and so on.
Today and in the next two or so Sundays, I will attempt to discuss the various issues related to conflict. It is difficult, if not impossible, to talk about forgiveness if we do not talk about the various issues related to conflict. Therefore, understanding the nature, dynamics, and transformation of conflict can help us understand the important role forgiveness brings to the process of transforming conflict. Forgiveness brings the much needed healing victims and offender need in order to move forward. But again, we cannot speak about forgiveness in isolation or apart from the larger topic of conflict.
Definition of conflict.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines conflict as:
Serious disagreement or argument. Prolonged armed
struggle. Incompatibility between opinions or principles.
What comes to your mind when you think of conflict? If you can label conflict, what color would you use for it? Why?
The source of conflict.
There are various explanations given for the existence of conflict. There might be a psychological explanation for the existence of conflict. There might be an anthropological explanation as well, not to mention the sociological: the class/power struggles. However good each explanation might be, I would like us to see conflict from a theological point of view. Simply put: let us see what the Bible tells us about the nature or source of human conflict. In order to do so, let us take a look at Genesis. Is conflict the result of “the fall,” which we find in Genesis 3, that is, when Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord? Or, is conflict embedded in the very way God created us humans as we find in Genesis 1? Or did conflict arise when, according to the Bible, Adam and Eve used their God-given freedom to choose on their own, thus distorting the image and likeness of God in them?
Genesis 1 tells us about God and his creative intervention into what is described as “a formless void” and where “darkness covered the face of the deep.” God intervened with a clear idea as to what and how he would create the world. God had a plan for his creation. That idea gradually became concrete expressions of what there was in the heart of God. The world God created had great diversity. There were night and day. There were various forms of light. There were land and sea. There were various kinds of sea creatures, birds and beasts. There were all kinds of plants. And there was a man and there was a woman; both created in God’s likeness and image, yet distinct from each other. And when everything, including humans, had been created, God saw that it was very good indeed (Gen. 1:31). God was profoundly pleased to see this amazing diversity of creatures, a world with alternating periods of day and night, and in these two human beings his very image and likeness.
I would like for us to read Genesis 1:26-31
26 Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.
27 God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth. 29 God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; 30 and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food. And so it happened. 31 God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.
God created human beings in his image and likeness. This means there is something of God in each of us. But exactly, what does it mean that God gave humans his image and likeness? So far, the only images or clear portraits we have been given about God are his creative power, his love for diversity, his concern and compassion for all he had created. You see, he did not only create the birds and stuff them somewhere. He created space for the birds to fly in; he provided fruits of all kinds to feed them. Likewise with the fish, he gave them the vast oceans as their home. When God created Adam and Eve, he provided for them with a beautiful garden—the Garden of Eden. In that regard we can say, with a good measure of certainty, that the image and likeness of God given to Adam and Eve were the ability to create, love and care for each other and the world. But is there any other quality or character about the image and likeness of God besides those? I believe so. Here it is again. Verse 26: Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. What we find here is the harmony among the Divine counsel. When God said, “let us create human beings in our image” he was declaring that he was not alone in the heavenly realm. God operated in agreement, consultation, and in a relationship of mutuality with the Divine assembly or Trinity as some take this to mean. In the very language God used of his intent of creating humans he revealed the image and likeness of a God in harmonious relationship within the Divine counsel.
It is, therefore, important to understand that when God created Adam and Eve in his likeness and image, God shared of himself to these first human beings. God so loved them that to them alone he gave something that was of his very essence.
So now we can say that the image and likeness of God is that God endowed them with the potential to share his creative nature and therefore he charged them to co-create the world they were given as home. It is the freedom he endowed them which gives them the capacity to think and to choose independently. The image and likeness of God is the capacity to care and love. It is the capacity to live in harmony and mutual respect for each other. In chapter two of Genesis where we are given a second creation story, it says that man and woman were naked yet they were not ashamed. Being naked can also mean that they were honest, transparent, or had nothing to hide from each other or before their God.
Explicit Authority Given
There are three commands given to Adam and Even besides those qualities we understand are implied about the image and likeness of God given to them.
Verse 28 reads: God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.
God commanded Adam and Eve to:
- Be fertile and to multiply; to fill the earth.
- Subdue the earth.
- Have dominion over all the creatures [.]
Procreation is the first explicit command God gave Adam and Eve. Let’s just say that the global population is reaching 7.5 billion today. Procreation has happened and is happening.
The meaning of “subdue”
The Hebrew word translated “subdue” is Kabas. If you remember, at this time there were no pests, thorns, or enemies. Kabas means to develop within the created order. Adam and Even were given the task to bring their world to its fullest possible creational potential. It does not mean to exploit or to repress by force. It means to cultivate and to bring out the most beauty the earth can produce.
The other command is to have dominion over all things. The Hebrew word for dominion is “rada.” This word means to provide care, to nurture, or to do husbandry work. Again, the word does not mean to exploit nor did it have a negative meaning. Even when the word “dominion” does not have a negative meaning, it was not to be exercised upon another human being. It was to be exercised over the animals, birds and fish.
So let me restate the subject matter for us this morning: What is the source or nature of conflict? Why do humans experience conflict? Here is a summary of what we have found today.
God created and loved diversity.
God acted in full harmony during the process of creation, expressed especially when he created humans.
God imprinted in us humans his image and likeness. This image and likeness of God in us means that there is something of God in each of us.
We have all been created differently; we are different from each other.
It means that God’s creative power has been shared with us.
It means that God has given us freedom to think and to choose.
God has made us with the capacity and need to be in harmony with each other.
Let us therefore embrace these gifts from God. Let us realize that the will of God is for us to care for the world God has given us.
Let us remember that in each of us there is something of God which we should honor. God made us to live in peace, which we find in Christ. Amen.
 Conflict: Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, 2004.