Handled, Part 4 image

Handled, Part 4

When it comes to interpersonal conflict we tend to be quick to apportion blame, say “that wasn’t handled well” and feel a measure of resentment towards the other person. As we have seen in the previous posts in this series (I hadn’t meant for it to be a series – that’s just what has happened!) the key thing is how we respond to the inevitable experience of being badly handled. What happens to us is often of less significance than how we respond. Will we win the battle for the heart, or give into the idol of pride and fight back?

The reality is that in any conflict there is often blame on both sides. An instructive biblical example of this is the encounter between Jacob and Laban recorded in Genesis 31. Let’s work through it verse by verse and see how this plays out, in terms of who was “right” and who “wrong”:

Verses 1-2: Laban is in the wrong as he is resentful towards Jacob.

Verse 3: Jacob is in the right, because he hears God’s voice commanding him to return to Canaan.

Verses 4-16: Jacob is in the wrong because he badmouths Laban, and encourages Rachel and Leah to do the same.

Verses 17-21: Jacob is in the wrong because he lives up to his name and ‘tricks’ Laban, by running away from the situation, with Rachel stealing Laban’s household gods to boot. (Whether or not Jacob knew Rachel had done this is not made clear. And we needn’t get into the details here of all concerned being wrong in having household gods in the first place.)

Verses 22-30: Laban is in the right this time. He sets off in pursuit of Jacob, but then heeds God’s warning about how he should speak to Jacob.

Verses 31-32: Jacob is in the right when he admits his error and says he acted out of fear.

Verses 33-35: Rachel is in the wrong this time as she lies to her father about ‘having her period’ and hides his gods in the saddlebag on which she sits.

Verses 36-42: Jacob is in the wrong – because Laban does not find what he has accused Jacob of stealing, Jacob sees the opportunity to get things off his chest and lets Laban have it with both barrels. There is truth in his argument, but his approach is wrong!

Verses 43-54: Laban is in the right as he recognizes he has to let Jacob go, and initiates a covenant between them. Jacob also then gets things right as he responds to Laban’s initiative, and breaks bread with him.

Verse 55: Laban is in the right as he blesses his children and grandchildren and takes his leave.

Neither Jacob nor Laban come out of this encounter particularly well. To a degree, they are both right, but the overall picture is of them both being wrong. Neither of them handle things very well, and it is only by the grace of God that the story concludes with them having dinner together rather than rolling in the dust punching each other’s lights out. (Which makes it all the more poignant that in the next chapter we find Jacob wrestling with God (clearly not a pacifist!))

I think the big lesson from this episode is to be alert to the fact that we might not be as right as we think we are. I’m sure that both Jacob and Laban felt themselves completely justified in their thoughts and actions (Jacob: “Twenty years I’ve worked for you, and got nothing but grief.” Laban: “You’re loaded man – and it’s all my stuff that you’re loaded with!”).

The thing is, they were both right, and both wrong, and fighting about it wasn’t going to achieve anything. Both of them could have handled the situation – and responded to it – a whole lot better. And in that, there must be a lesson for us all.

This is the fourth article of the Handled Series.

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