At the heart of all conflict is desire

March 11, 2015 | Viewpoints | Volume 19 Issue 6
Phil Wagler |

My life is great viewing. Tonight I watched my one-year-old meticulously pick through a small box of knick-knacks looking for something she could treasure. I wanted to interrupt, but then it just turned so gosh-darn cute and I watched in satisfied silence. Ah, joy.

There are other days, though. Well, actually, it can be the same day. The peaceful pleasure of watching a child be fully a child careens into the feuds of children being fully children. Get a few of the squirts together and a squabble over a toy or game can turn decidedly nasty. All those “love one another” Bible lessons go out the window. Every relational tool carefully taught is run over like a dried skunk on a sideroad. The whole thing just stinks.

What’s at the root of such conflicts?

It’s pretty easy to diagnose the origins when elementary kids are having it out. At its most basic, conflict emerges when they want their own way. It’s why the most important part of a game with kids is the rule book or adult presence. Every attempt to manipulate a win can be trumped by either the authority of what the rules say or by an appeal to a “higher power.” “Dad, they’re cheating!” The reality is, however, nothing will change without submission to an authority and one another.

Human conflict exists. We’re born into it and each contribute our more-than-fair share of selfish desire to it. Now, not all conflict is sin; sometimes it has a purpose God desires. However, the conflict that is outside of God’s will, as Jim Van Ypren describes in Making Peace, “springs from . . . need-based, self-absorbed attitudes and actions. . . . We dare not take desire lightly. It is at the heart of all conflict.”

You can see this when things go south in a group of youngsters. The issue is desire. Sadly, you can see it among big people too. “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” asked James. “Don’t they come from the desires that battle within you” (James 4:1)?

These are sobering questions to reflect upon. How do the conflicts I am in find their root in my need-based, self-absorbed attitudes and actions? Yes, others have issues too. Yes, there is always more to understand, and more truth to comprehend, but even truth can’t easily withstand unbridled desire. We can always point away from ourselves, but isn’t it time to end those childish games? Seriously, let us check our desires.

Perhaps in all this is a clue as we approach Scripture together in the church. Perhaps the first step in a true community hermeneutic—a reading, understanding, interpreting and applying of the Word of God together—is confessing and naming the desires we bring.

What if we were brutally honest: “I come to Scripture wanting my way and I’m willing to bend the truth to justify my desire.”

Perhaps we’re too smug for that, but such authenticity seems very human to me. Would not such vulnerability open the door to another desire birthed only by the Holy Spirit: “Lord, not my will, but yours be done?”

Phil Wagler ( sees himself way too much in the ways of his kids. He’s still got some desires to work through as he seeks the desire of the Father.

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well said.

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