Lessons From the Old Testament: The Origin of Human Conflict

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.  Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”  He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”  The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”  Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:7-13)

It would be simple and right to say that sin in the human heart is the origin of human conflict.  But we can be a little more specific than that.  Adam and Eve chose to believe that God was holding out on them, jealously guarding His selfish desire to be the only one who could determine right and wrong, good and evil.  Because they did not trust Him now to take care of them, they had only themselves to take care of each other.  But they soon found out that they didn’t even have that.

When once we lose confidence in God to care for us, that leaves us to our own devices and it is a scary thing to be left to our own devices.  When Adam and Eve sinned they suddenly realized that they were not clothed and being seen in their nakedness brought a sense of exposure that felt incredibly uncomfortable and unsafe.  It felt so unsafe, so shameful to be so exposed and vulnerable, that they used their own devices to create some sort of covering, imperfect as it might be.  They were suddenly aware of the possibility that the one could hurt the other.

This became most apparent when God asked Adam if he had eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Confronted with the possibility that his life was on the line, Adam felt terror and sought for a way to save himself.  He saw his finger move to a pointing position toward his wife and heard his lips laying the blame on her.  The human heart had become capable of selling out one it loved for one it loved even more…itself.

Human beings have become masters at trying to take care of ourselves.  We won’t depend on God, and we learn quickly that we can’t depend on others (witness the child whose parents take him to the doctor for shots, the child whose parents shame him for innocent behavior, the child whose parents abuse him).  So we depend on ourselves, only, of course, to find out that we are not dependable either (witness the addict who can’t make himself stop drinking, the one who lets laziness rule his life, the one who can’t stop saying hurtful things though it drives everyone away). 

Life now becomes a task of protecting myself from pain and thus from everyone who can be a source of that pain.  If you threaten my sense of safety by challenging my intelligence (which I’m depending on to make me valuable to others) I feel shame and then anger toward you.  I will lash out at you to get you to stop shaming me or seek to shame you at a vulnerable spot in your soul.  If you get the job I was “needing” to feel good about myself or just be better able to take care of my family, you have become my enemy.

James has another way of putting this:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)

The only way out of human conflict is to find someone bigger and better than me who can be trusted to take care of me no matter what comes my way, someone who can be there at every moment and who can guide me in the right path despite my selfish fears and motives.  That is why James also says:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. (James 4:6,7)

God knows how desperately afraid we are when we try to live apart from Him.  He knows how desperately we need Him.  He invites us to find in Him once again the trustworthy and reliable friend and savior that we need.  Will you give up your false divinity?


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