Peace: A Hip Word, A Hard Reality
It is the Advent week of peace — a time to come to terms with our own struggles and problems, a time to realize that the coming of Christ will offer us all assurance that His kingdom comes, His will be done.
When one thinks of peace, especially during the holidays, I’m never sure what kind of peace we’re talking about. Peace on earth, amongst people, in your heart, in your family, at your job, peace with the state of the world? While peace of the heart is important, peace amongst people is more what is on my mind.
Whether it’s a state of the mind or of the world, there’s no doubt that it seems peace is a fine and lovely term to toss about, in churches, in the media, from the mouths of politicians and next-door neighbors to one another. People love the idea of peace because it indeed makes them feel…peaceful. If I just sing “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” then that must mean that somewhere deep down, I mean that and my, that sounds lovely.
But it’s not enough.
Peace isn’t always lovely…most of the time, it’s damn hard, complicated and unpopular.
I think too often peace is mistaken for complacency and inaction. It’s seen as a passive response to the world that allows us the cushion to sit back and not do anything to combat the really tough things, like genocide and dictators and war, all while hugging our Bibles and praying in a very detached way. But I would argue that peace is anything but simple and cozy. I would argue that staying your fists, your guns and bombs when it is the most tempting to use them is much, much harder than letting them fly.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.”
Which means that the myth of redemptive violence is just that — a myth, a falsehood, an outright lie, a conspiracy, a blatant slap in the face of all that Jesus taught. And any doctrine or gospel that preaches anything else is not of Christ.
“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best-the sun to warm and the rain to nourish-to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
-Matthew 5:38-48 (The Message)
Most people find the idea of utter nonviolence to be absolutely insane. How can you not protect yourself? How can you let people like Hilter or Saddam Hussein just do what they do? What about soliders who are pillaging villages and raping children?
I have the exact same questions.
And I don’t have the answers — but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
All I know is that when I committed my life to following Christ, I didn’t commit insofar as it was comfortable or easy. I didn’t commit only to what I understood. My entire heart is in Him, and that includes sharing His passionate commitment to nonviolence.
Perhaps this might sound morbid or insane, but if someone is attacking me, I would never want someone to kill them. I don’t want the threat of my safety to cause anyone to take another human life. I would rather die. Because I’ve come to see that a long and safe life isn’t the point. We are never, ever promised that following Christ is a soft, sweet, boxed-in little life where we are to protect ourselves at any cost. That was never the deal.
Peace is active in its compassion. It’s creative in its methods, constantly reinventing new ways to love one another in a way that is disarming. It’s engaging, it’s contagious and in this day and age, will get you thrown into jail over and over, and branded as a traitor and a deserter for it. But it’s our only choice. Look back over history, over the thousands and thousands of years that civilizations and nations have tried to perfect redemptive violence, killing and destroying just enough to gain control, and you’ll notice one thing. IT HAS NEVER WORKED.
The point isn’t to convert the world into some giant hippie commune, where everyone wears hemp and holds hands. Peace is an action, it’s a lifestyle of pure and unbiased love. It’s loving your enemies because it’s the right thing to do, not because it feels good or always makes sense. And it’s contagious, as catching as the flu and a heck of a lot better for you. It reminds us that we are all human, all creations of a God who loves each and every one of us, even the terrorists, the rapists and the corporate executives. It doesn’t mean that each person deserves that love or even “has a good heart.” Choosing peace is making a decision that the image of God in another person is more valuable than your own revenge and hatred, more precious than power or control. It’s choosing to endure and forgive, when killing and resenting would be so much easier.
Maybe peace will never really be en vogue. Maybe we will continue on destroying ourselves one by one, through wars and famines, greed and hoarding and most of all, through indifference and apathy (which I truly pray and believe will not be the case). All I can do is refuse to be a part of that story. If by living a life of committed and resistant nonviolence, all I do is care for people (even my enemies) and do my part to show them what God’s love looks like, then let it be so. I will know that I followed my Savior out into the storm, even with no guarantee that I would live to see the morning, and that is enough. When I come to die, I have no illusions to go with nobility and importance, but rather die as a solider for love.
Hands down, the best footnote in any book I have ever read (and I have read a lot) was in Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw”s Jesus for President. When writing the stories of people they had met, who have left the military and abandoned lives of violence for lives of revolutionary resistance, his footnote read as follows:
“If it appears that we, the authors of this book, are encouraging people to leave the military, it’s because we are.”
(If you haven’t read this book and want to, I will gladly buy you a copy and mail it to you. It’s that good.)
We are never promised that a peaceful life will pan out in a peaceful way. Countless martyrs over the years have been killed for their staunch commitment to not take another human life. While this is in no way meant to disrespect anyone who has served as a solider, I cannot agree with violence merely to make people feel better or vilified. I can respect without agreeing and I hope people can see that.
Peace can make a person feel small and ineffective in the face of our world today, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: If it comes down to the choice to love too much or not enough, I will always love too much.
Be encouraged, peacemakers. You are not alone.