This year marks the 30th anniversary of the ending of the longest war in history. The 335 Year War (as it is now known) was a conflict between the Netherlands and the tiny Isles of Scilly off the south west coast of Cornwall. It all kicked off way back in 1651, during the second English Civil War, but throughout this long period there were no casualties, no battles, not even a single shot fired. Probably because, for the vast majority of that time, neither side was even aware that they were at war! It’s a fascinating story, which I’d recommend looking up.
Reading it myself got me thinking about how, in our lives, we can be involved in lengthy periods of conflict, yet often with little recollection of the original ‘disagreement’. What was it all about, how did it start and why has it lasted for so long? Maybe it’s a friend that we don’t talk to anymore; a neighbour we avoid; or someone in the family we simply can’t be in the same room as.
On a well known counselling organisation’s website, advice concerning the resolution of conflict seems to fall under three less than encouraging headings:
1. Resolve it
2. Let it go
3. Minimise contact or cut off completely
Thankfully the Bible has plenty of good advice on the subject. God tells us that His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8); His ways are much higher than our ways, and invariably run counter to our ways. So if we’re serious about achieving peace in our relationships, we need to respond to conflict God’s way.
In the majority of cases, drawn out periods of conflict come from a dislike (often a deep dislike) of another. However difficult the dislike is to solve, we should be demonstrating the unconditional love of Christ to the person or people we’re in conflict with (Luke 6:27). If we say we love God that includes loving all those created in His image (1 John 4:20-21). No matter what the disagreement we should never stop praying for those we’ve fallen out with. We should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19). We should take a step back from the hostilities and consider whether we share common goals that are bigger than our differences, appealing to those common interests as we seek a resolution. Of course we also should forgive as the Father forgives us (Coll 3:13). When we recall God’s infinite love and forgiveness we are much more able to love and forgive others.
With the signing of a peace treaty by the Netherlands ambassador, Mr. Rein Huydecoper, on 17th April 1986, I’m relieved that we no longer have to choose between Royalist or Parliamentarian armies when visiting the south west! But what about those long unresolved conflicts in our lives today? We’re unlikely to get 335 years to settle our differences, but if we prayerfully commit today to healing those old wounds, God can do truly amazing things through us.