Disagreements have never been easy. Even when the other person lives a continent away and your own settings entirely control the posts you see, conflict raises the blood pressure and creates unwanted stress. The closer you are to a person, the higher the stress level. The more personal the issue, the higher the stress level. Thus, spiritual issues, which address matters not only close to our hearts but essential to our destiny and usually at the core of our identity, have the potential for the greatest conflict. Indeed, throughout the middle ages and early modern history, religious differences formed the lines by which nations conducted warfare. In the twenty-first century, the inherently political nature of Islam continues this tradition forward, though most seem oblivious to its historical origins. However, most spiritual conflict occurs when two people—equally convinced they are right—square off in a war of words. As they verbally circle one another, they argue—not only from their own knowledge but also from the perspective they have assumed about the other person.
This approach, centered on assuming much, speaking first, and listening only if you must, is all too common. Eliphaz exemplified this behavior as his frustration with Job grew. After Job had explained himself, insisting that he had not sinned, yet these ills had come upon him, Eliphaz responded haughtily, “Have you heard the counsel of God? Do you limit wisdom to yourself? What do you know that we do not know? What do you understand that is not in us?” (Job 15:8-9). To Eliphaz, Job’s claim to have done nothing wrong came from pride, and Job’s argument that something else had to be the cause of his problems had to be heresy. Why? Eliphaz assumed that his knowledge of these matters at the very least equaled Job’s, so much so that he refused to consider any possibility other than the opinion he held originally—despite having been introduced to facts that falsified his own contention. Nevertheless, Eliphaz pushed forward, telling Job, “I will tell you, hear me; What I have seen I will declare” (Job 15:17). After berating Job for pride because Job argued from his own experience—information unavailable to Eliphaz—Eliphaz proceeded to tell Job to listen to him because he knew better. Hypocrisy overflows.
Disagreements are a part of life, and if you are serious about your faith, spiritual disagreements will be a part of your life too. However, if you begin your discussion by making assumptions about the other person, you damage your own ability to persuade that person. Sadly, many people still subscribe to the notion that if they have never heard it, understood it, and accepted it, then it cannot possibly be true. Others treat any new thing they learn in a similar fashion. Like Eliphaz, when confronted with new factual information, they quickly deny it and accuse the other person of pride for bringing it up and daring to disagree. When Eliphaz confronted Job, he assumed a number of things, and these kept him from listening to Job and from confronting his own ignorance. We need to make sure that we do not fall into that same trap.