Nothing reveals a person’s approach to epistemology more rapidly than trouble-shooting in conflict does. “What’s the trouble here? How did the trouble start?” Almost always the way this kind of question is answered serves to extend and continue the trouble.
When Ahab decided to start worshiping Baal, the end result of this was a drought that turned Israel brown. Jezebel persuaded him to start worshipping the idols of green, and the first thing that happened was lots of brown everywhere. But the interesting thing was that when Ahab and Elijah encountered one another after three years of this drought, they still had differing interpretations. Ahab thought Elijah was the trouble, and Elijah thought that Ahab and his idols were the trouble (1 Kings 18:17-18). Scripture tells us clearly that Achan was a troubler of Israel (1 Chron. 2:7). Is that how he thought of it? Is that what Achan’s mom thought? Let’s get her on CNN to tell her side.
Whenever we get to this point in the polemical proceedings, continued conversation (as mere talk) is fruitless. Those who are stubborn remain stubborn. Those who are faithful remain faithful. Those who are ignorant remain ignorant. Over the last several years, in our various controversies, I have seen a remarkable amount of treachery, dishonesty, and invincible ignorance. But if this is the case, then how are these things ever to be resolved?
But as we answer this question, we have to take care. Giving up on endless discussion, dispute, debate, etc. is not the same thing as giving up generally. When we tend to think that to give up on talking is the same as giving up period, this indicates that perhaps our faith was in our words, and not in Christ.
Theological impasses are resolved in two ways — the first is obviously the ultimate way in which God will sort out everything in the final judgment. We will not enter eternity still trying to tie up all the loose ends. God will bring everything together, and the entire story will make wonderful and perfect sense.
But what about in the meantime? The second way a sovereign God resolves many of these issues is through how He governs the course of history. The names of many honored saints today have that position precisely because of the abuse they were willing to endure at the time. Athanasius is not against the entire Christian world now (contra mundum) precisely because he was willing to be in that position then.
When controversy erupts in the Christian world, there are the two sides of the dispute, and then there is a large, getting-up-to-speed group in the middle that spends its time trying to figure out who started it. And regardless of who started it, some members of this middle group usually take St. Paul, or Athanasius, or some other faithful Tishbite aside, and urge them to be more gentlemanly in how they fight the Lord’s battles.
And more words won’t sort it out. We must appeal to God, who sees it all. “Shew me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, LORD, hast holpen me, and comforted me” (Ps. 86:17).