26 Apr 2021

Causes of Dysfunctional Conflict: The Need to Be Emotionally Healed

The writing of The Mercy Effect was an arduous journey of introspection. It was a time in my life when I was struggling with why there is so much dysfunctional conflict among Christians. It would seem that of all people we should be the ones who exhibit the mercy and love of God in our families and congregations. All too often the way of dealing with conflict in Christian marriages, relationships between brethren in congregations, and even between ministers isn’t any different than in the society we claim to reject.

The Mercy Effect identifies five major core causes of conflict. In this series of blogs, we will look at each of these causes and explore biblical solutions. The first is our need to be healed by God.


Kurt was a man coming undone. He sat alone in a room full of people busy with activity. Laughter and conversation swirled around him, but Kurt had a scowl on his face and anguish in his eyes. He explained to me he had been lied to by Jim, a trusted authority figure. The wound was so deep Kurt was sure he could no longer trust anyone.

Kurt’s anger was compounded by the fact that not long after the offence Jim died, leaving Kurt with no way to seek justice or to receive the apology he needed. The hurt was all consuming. “It is as if,” Kurt explained, “he reaches up out of the grave and controls my life.”

Although the names have been changed, this story is based on real people. Are you like Kurt, filled with anguish, waiting for an offender to help you heal by admitting wrong?

Often, we describe emotional hurts in physical terms like “open wounds” and “deep scars.” We become convinced the pain will go away only when the other person receives justice or admits the wrong. But what happens when a person refuses to admit the wrong or justice seems to be ignored? At that point, we can become trapped in a never-ending state of turmoil without any hope of resolution. All aspects of life become increasingly bitter, robbing us of peace and happiness. The need to have others heal our emotional hurts is a major reason we have so much trouble resolving conflicts with people who have offended us.

Typical human forgiveness is passive. As the injured party, we wait for the offender to admit wrong and to tell us, “I’m sorry.” We think that only then can we experience emotional healing, and only then can we offer forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness is active. Christ died for us, while we were yet sinners. As the injured party, God isn’t passively waiting for us to repent so He can be healed and then offer forgiveness. Because God has no need to be healed, He is actively seeking to reconcile with us, offering us forgiveness, and helping us repent so that we can be healed.

Human forgiveness is based on the injured party needing to be healed through the repentance of the offender. Since God is absolute love, a being without need of emotional healing, He offers reconciliation solely through love for the offender. This doesn’t mean that the offender is excused from the responsibility to repent. Reconciliation is a two-way street, but it is God who initiates the reconciliation process.

Because God is actively offering His forgiveness, and Jesus Christ suffered for our restoration, we are drawn by God’s goodness to repent and to be reconciled. Paul writes, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

When we experience spiritual, mental, and emotional healing through God’s mercy and forgiveness, we receive the power to change the way we treat those who have offended us. We are free to be open to reconciliation, even with an offender who is not ready to say, “I’m sorry.” Our desire will be to lead the other person to healing and reconciliation with God. This is the first step of the mercy effect.

Whenever you are experiencing dysfunctional conflict the first step is to ask God for healing.  This prayer is to be offered for both you and the other person. Only God can give you the clarity of thought and peace of mind to productively deal with deep disagreements and the resulting emotional distress.

Next we’ll explore how we can impose expectations that others will satisfy our needs and desires.


Excerpt from The Mercy Effect, copyright © 2018 by Gary Petty


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About the Author

Gary Petty is a 1978 graduate of Ambassador College with a BS in mass communications. He worked for six years in radio in Pennsylvania and Texas. He was ordained a minister in 1984 and has served cong