As we have been making our way through Exodus I have been noticing the central place that relationship plays in the lives of God’s people. Relationship with God and relationship with one another. This is not particularly surprising as it’s the theme of the whole Bible. However it isn’t what I expected to immerge at the forefront of our exploration of this Exodus story.
Today my thoughts revolve around the un-enjoyable part of relating to others. Confrontation. I have been in some form of ministry for the last 15 years. The roles I’ve had were not always the same and the venues have also changed. But one thing is always true wherever you find people: confrontation and disagreement are inevitable. I’m not just talking about the brutal kind of “you’re living in sin” confrontation. That will happen, but more often than not the confrontation should first happen on smaller scales. Little things that occur that show signs of emotional or spiritual unhealthy. We don’t like to deal with these though. We don’t like to address these fully. And what happens? Often those unaddressed, little things grow and become huge knock down drag out kinds of confrontation. They lead to divisive situations if not dealt with in the smaller areas.
The problem? Most of us—not all—but most of us do not like confrontation. We abhor it. We will do almost anything to avoid it. And so the little things go unchecked and unaddressed. Small areas of emotional un-health—in us and others—go without any real caring attempts to help us be more healthy and live more like Jesus.
Take the Israelites for example. Exodus 32 finds the Israelites worshipping an idol because Moses took too long going up to talk with the very real God who had been showing himself in very real ways to all the people. And we find Moses so angry, that even though he has just received from God the very words of God written by God himself, he smashes them on his decent from the mountain to deal with these people.
When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it. Exodus 32:19-20
Now, I’m not faulting Moses here (mostly I’m not). Aaron actually is the one who needs to be seriously taken to task. But I will say that as I read this I thought about all the times to this point that the people complained or talked against Moses and God. I thought of all the times that there was criticism and a very fatalistic attitude about how they were all going to die. And I remembered all the patience and all the grace. Don’t get me wrong, all the mercy is great and wonderful and I need grace like that too. But why didn’t Moses ever stop and just confront the issues of distrust and faithlessness of the people? Why not just stop the procession, sit down and work through what’s going on with these people? Why not just tell them straight out that if the attitudes and mistrust don’t stop we are never getting into the Promised Land (which actually became true for nearly all the adults)?
Because we don’t like confrontation. That’s ultimately the problem with us people. (Except for those who like it too much, but that’s another story) So the little problem gets dealt with, the small issue gets resolution, and maybe it wasn’t pretty or smooth, but we are usually just happy it’s over. We move on. We don’t deal with the issues lying beneath the surface, but the problem is still there. The issue still lingers. The unhealthy is still festering under the surface. And eventually it will come out; probably in bigger and more destructive ways. Unless we deal with it.
Now let’s be clear: I really think this only works for people we are in genuine relationship with. People who have chosen to be in relationship with us. People who have committed to the same values of Christ following that we have. People who we share meals with and worship with. People we work side by side for the kingdom with.
If we don’t have relationship then confronting becomes judging and placing value and motivation all too quickly. Whether we mean it to or not it definitely can be perceived that way. So this is delicate ground we tread and even in cases when we are in relationship there needs to be so much prayer and so much grace—even in the confronting we need to be people of grace.
But if we run away, ignore, or just settle for getting through it eventually this un-health of others will come out in bigger and more destructive ways. Of course, the flip side to this is we are putting ourselves out there for our emotional and spiritual un-health to be brought to task as well. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why we don’t confront others…