How to Solve Problems Peacefully
HUMAN violence is almost as old as mankind. The Bible traces violence back to Cain, the brother of Abel and the oldest son of the first human couple. When God favored Abel’s offering over his, Cain “grew hot with great anger.” How did he deal with the situation? “Cain proceeded to assault Abel his brother and kill him.” Afterward, he found himself in very deep trouble with God. (Genesis 4:5, 8-12) Violence did not solve the problem of Cain’s bad standing before his Creator.
How can we avoid Cain’s course of resorting to physical force to resolve problems?
From Violence to Tolerance
Consider a man who watched approvingly the murder of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. (Acts 7:58; 8:1) The man, Saul of Tarsus, did not agree with Stephen’s religious stand and supported the violent murder as a justified way of stopping Stephen’s activities. Granted, Saul may not have been violent in every aspect of his life. Yet he was willing to accept violence as a way of solving problems. Right after Stephen’s death, Saul “began to deal outrageously with the [Christian] congregation. Invading one house after another and, dragging out both men and women, he would turn them over to prison.”—Acts 8:3.
According to Bible scholar Albert Barnes, the Greek word here translated “to deal outrageously with” denotes the devastations that wild beasts, such as lions and wolves, can create. “Saul,” explains Barnes, “raged against the church like a wild beast—a strong expression, denoting the zeal and fury with which he engaged in persecution.” When Saul headed to Damascus to round up more followers of Christ, he was “still breathing threat and murder against the disciples of the Lord [Christ].” On his way, he was spoken to by the resurrected Jesus, and this resulted in Saul’s conversion to Christianity.—Acts 9:1-19.
Following that conversion, Saul’s way of dealing with others changed. An incident that took place some 16 years afterward demonstrated the change. A group of people came to his home congregation in Antioch and urged the Christians there to conform to the Mosaic Law. “No little dissension” resulted. Saul, by this time better known as Paul, took a position in the dispute. Apparently, sparks flew. But Paul did not resort to violence. Rather, he assented to the congregation’s decision to refer the matter to the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem congregation.—Acts 15:1, 2.
In Jerusalem, again “much disputing” took place at the meeting of the elders. Paul waited until “the entire multitude became silent” and then reported the magnificent work of God’s spirit among the uncircumcised believers. After a Scriptural discussion, the apostles and Jerusalem elders came “to a unanimous accord” not to burden uncircumcised believers unnecessarily but to admonish them “to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.” (Acts 15:3-29) Indeed, Paul had changed. He learned to resolve issues without violence.
Coping With Violent Tendencies
“A slave of the Lord does not need to fight,” Paul later admonished, “but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed.” (2 Timothy 2:24, 25) Paul urged Timothy, a younger overseer, to handle difficult situations calmly. Paul was realistic. He knew that emotions could become aroused even among Christians. (Acts 15:37-41) With good reason, he counseled: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” (Ephesians 4:26) Controlling anger without exploding in uncontrolled rage is the proper way to deal with such emotions. But how can this be accomplished?
Today, it is not easy to keep anger under control. “Being mean is popular,” said Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, assistant dean at the Harvard School of Public Health. “In fact, the skills for getting along—negotiation, compromise, empathy, forgiveness—are those usually ascribed to wimps.” Yet, those are manly qualities, and they are key to controlling violent tendencies that may well up inside us.
Upon becoming a Christian, Paul learned a better way of dealing with differences of opinion. It was based on the teachings of the Bible. As a learned scholar of Judaism, Paul was familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. He must have been aware of such scriptures as: “Do not become envious of the man of violence, nor choose any of his ways.” “He that is slow to anger is better than a mighty man, and he that is controlling his spirit than the one capturing a city.” “As a city broken through, without a wall, is the man that has no restraint for his spirit.” (Proverbs 3:31; 16:32; 25:28) Yet, that knowledge had not prevented Paul, before his conversion, from resorting to violence against the Christians. (Galatians 1:13, 14) But what helped Paul, as a Christian, to resolve emotionally charged issues by using reason and persuasion instead of violence?
Paul gave us a clue when he said: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) He greatly appreciated what Jesus Christ had done for him. (1 Timothy 1:13, 14) Christ became the model for him to follow. He knew how Jesus suffered for the sake of sinful mankind. (Hebrews 2:18; 5:8-10) Paul could verify that Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah was fulfilled in Jesus: “He was hard pressed, and he was letting himself be afflicted; yet he would not open his mouth. He was being brought just like a sheep to the slaughtering; and like a ewe that before her shearers has become mute, he also would not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7) The apostle Peter wrote: “When he [Jesus] was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.”—1 Peter 2:23, 24.
Paul’s appreciation for the way Jesus Christ dealt with tense situations moved him to change. He could admonish his fellow believers: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.” (Colossians 3:13) Acknowledging the need not to be violent is not enough. Appreciation for what Jehovah and Jesus Christ have done for us helps to provide the motivation needed to overcome violent tendencies.
Is It Possible?
One man in Japan needed such strong motivation. His father, who was a soldier with a quick temper, dominated his family with violence. Being a victim of violence and seeing his mother suffer similarly, the man developed a violent disposition. He carried two samurai swords of different lengths that he wielded to solve problems as well as to threaten people.
When his wife started to study the Bible, he sat in on the study without taking it seriously. Upon reading a booklet entitled This Good News of the Kingdom,* however, he changed. Why? “When I read the material under the subheadings, ‘Christ Jesus’ and ‘The Ransom,’ I felt ashamed,” he explains. “Although I lived a wayward life, I still liked to be kind to those I got along with. I took pleasure in making my buddies happy but only to the extent that it would not affect my own life. Well, God’s Son, Jesus, was willing to give up his life for mankind, including ones like me. I was stunned, as though I had been struck with a mallet.”
He stopped associating with his former buddies and soon enrolled in the Theocratic Ministry School in a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This school helps the enrollees to acquire the art of teaching the Bible to others. The course brought a fringe benefit to this man. He reminisces: “When I was young, I resorted to threats and violence because I could not convey my feelings to others. As I learned to communicate my thoughts to others, I began to reason with them instead of resorting to violence.”
Has he, like Paul, made Christ’s way of life his own? His faith was tested when a former friend with whom he was bound by a mutual oath of brotherhood tried to stop him from becoming a Christian. His “friend” hit him and blasphemed his God, Jehovah. The formerly violent man controlled himself and apologized for not being able to keep the oath. Disappointed, his “brother” left him alone.
By conquering his violent tendencies, this formerly angry man has gained many spiritual brothers and sisters, who are united by love for God and neighbor. (Colossians 3:14) In fact, more than 20 years after becoming a dedicated Christian, he now serves as a traveling overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses. What a joy it is for him to be able to show from the Bible that men with beastlike dispositions can learn to solve differences without violence just as he learned it! And what a privilege it is for him to be able to point to the grand fulfillment of the prophetic words: “They will not do any harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain; because the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea”!—Isaiah 11:9.
Like the apostle Paul and this formerly violent man, you too can learn to handle provoking situations, solving problems peacefully. Jehovah’s Witnesses in your locality will be happy to help you.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Blurb on page 5]
Paul was realistic. He knew that emotions could become heated up even among Christians
[Picture on page 7]
Appreciation for what God has done for us makes for peaceful relations