Peace

“When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemy,’ he probably meant don’t kill them.”

The bumper sticker puts things starkly. It undermines political pretensions to go to war in the name of Jesus.

But the question circles back around: to what extent can a Christian ethic such as, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,” and “Do not be angry–much less kill!” guide a nation?

And yet, the question comes around again: is God’s plan for his beloved world simply that the various persons who may or may not be killing each other, biting and devouring one another, have “peace in their hearts,” or does the Prince of Peace intend to make peace known, truly, far as the curse is found?

We cannot escape the cosmic vision of peace that scripture holds out as creation’s future. Nor can we escape our calling to make that future a present reality.

The danger of the annual advent cycle through peace in my corner of the world is that we will look to inner peace as something on offer and, to a certain extent, attainable through the gospel. Turning our eyes to the world around we will see peace as an impossibility short of the second Advent, and so we will leave our musings on peace without being moved to participate in the peace- bringing mission of God.

Nation states will never be pacifist. They cannot be. They must operate in protection of their citizens, wielding the power of the sword when appropriate.

And this is why our commitment to peace is also a commitment to a power that is greater than the nation-state and is not confined to its channels. The great king over all kings has a different way to be at work, a different vision for how to establish peace–the reconciling work of self-giving love has conquered hostility between humanity and God, between God’s marked-out people and those beyond its pale.

And this power of peace is the power of the Spirit who empowers us to be at peace with one another and with all people, being not only peaceable but peacemaking people.

As we light our candles and celebrate the peace that we have already laid hold of, on this second Sunday of Advent, we should also find ourselves summoned to a peace that is the good work people might see and thereby glorify our Father in heaven.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

7 thoughts on “Peace”

  1. In America we have a pretty split view of this issue. Modern wars are typically fought somewhere else. We want peace (for our homes at least) and don’t consciously think about the battles being fought elsewhere. Not to mention that many wars are the outgrowth of conditions we helped establish in the past.

    There is some progress in that more and more big changes result from non-violent protest. Even the recent Arab Spring has its roots in Christian principles. Hopefully, we will never have another “world war”, but Revelation (whatever your interpretation) doesn’t seem to indicate that.

  2. Whither then the nation state? If it cannot conform to the vision of the One to whom we pledge our real allegiance, what guidance does the Gospel and its story give us for life within the bounds of one? Israel was (and is) a nation state. The church will never be one. To say that this presents us with significant conceptual and practical challenges would be an understatement.

    1. Well said. James Hunter’s TO Change the World and an essay called “Violence and the Social Imagination” by Emanuel Katongole have re-convinced me that the church should basically re-refocus on being the church. We can play Joseph/Daniel when the state starts asking us questions that don’t start with an implicit reciprocity of votes-for-rhetoric.

  3. I was really moved recently by Tolstoys “Law of Love and Law of Violence”. I summarize some of it on my blog but you can download the original for free and its not long.
    He makes a great theological and historical case for the centrality of non-violence to Christianity – the centrality of love without exception.
    He also makes the obvious case for the centrality of violence to both the nation state and the political movements of his time.

  4. They must operate in protection of their citizens, wielding the power of the sword when appropriate.

    But the thing nation-states are mainly protecting their citizens and other vested interests from is other nation-states who are doing likewise. Something is wrong here. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why the nations shouldn’t be interested in mutual salvation, but they ain’t. Does anybody but me have a problem with the Book of Joshua?

    And this is why our commitment to peace is also a commitment to a power that is greater than the nation-state

    Also smaller. Each one must work to save his neighbor. Practically as well as soteriologically. IMO.

  5. I think it’s worth noting, regarding the nation-state concept and the extent of the peace Jesus was talking about that the Sermon on the Mount was meant to serve as a counter-charter to Israel’s Sinai Covenant. I believer it’s why Matthew places Jesus on a mountain in the first place (cf. Lk 6:17).

    So whereas Sinai was meant to establish Israel as a nation under God, Jesus here delivers a similar manifesto that goes above and beyond the Moses’ covenant. The implication, then, is that Jesus is establishing a new nation, a new people of God. They may have no lines on a map, but they will be defined and governed by peace, even in their political dealings, I would think.

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