Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What's The Big Ideal About Peace?

Back in the 1960s, my parents became the cutting edge owners of a large back and white television. We got a taste of what was going on “out there” in the world by way of that airwave connection to lands far away (well, over the border) and I particularly remember the beauty pageants. Once or twice a year, we’d gaze upon groups of lovely young women who paraded their charms in gowns and bathing suits. Even at eight or so years old, I found the hoopla both fascinating and odd.

The focus of these contests was wasn’t just physical beauty, but also character. To give the judges a hint of what lay beneath the glossy surface of these women, entrants were asked serious questions and one I particularly remember went something like this: “If you could have one wish, what would it be?”  With predictable frequency, answers would be variations on the theme of “peace on earth.”

After all, what judge or audience member would not find the desire for peace to be both righteous and socially acceptable? We were in the middle of a century in which the globe had been rocked by two world wars and America was, at that time, engaged in a cold war with the other big superpower in the world, the U.S.S.R. The threat of nuclear annihilation was in the forefront of people’s minds. Peace on earth – yes, most could get on board with that idea.

Later, as a 30-something, brand-new Christian I joined a few friends on a “peace march”. It was an orderly walk through the main streets of our city and its aim was to proclaim our grassroots desire, as peace-loving citizens of Canada, to lay down arms in favour of working things out in a civilized manner. We hated all the violence and wanted humanity to progress and become what we thought of as “more enlightened” in this area.

I attended the march with a small group of Christians from our socially active church. Being a new believer, I was full of shiny ideals, so was brave enough to wade into the hemp-wearing, sandals-clad crowd – there were thousands of us – sporting a placard that proclaimed, “The only way to true peace is through Jesus Christ.”  Yup – I was a bit of an odd duck in that crowd!

We marched to the grounds of the Provincial Legislature and sat down to listen to rousing political speeches. A young woman wearing a colourful cotton skirt and beads crouched beside me and said, “There are many ways to God and true peace, not just one.” 

Introvert that I am, I had no brilliant comeback, but something I’d been reading recently crept around the corner of my conscious mind and out through my mouth before I could analyse it too much: “Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through me.’ ”  She didn’t respond, but just got up and left. That’s good, because if she’d stayed and debated, I might have trotted out all sorts of silly arguments that would have clouded the simple truth.

I don’t know if I’d participate in any kind of protest march now, especially wearing a placard like that. People are not as polite as they once were and a religious point of view is even less acceptable in public discourse than it was in the 1980’s. That doesn’t mean I should hide away and avoid talking about issues for fear that I’ll offend people. As Christians, we don’t change our points of view according to the waxing and waning of public opinion because we believe that God has laid down certain abiding principles for human existence. I’m not speaking of debateable issues like whether or not countries should go to war or develop nuclear weapons. These are sidebars to the main point, which is that all people need peace with God in order to have peace of mind and heart. And they need to have peace within themselves before they can live at peace with others. Listen to what Apostle James says about peace in relationships (James 4:1-2): 

First of all, he asks a question.  “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?”

Then he points to the deeper issue. “Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?”  

He doesn’t let his readers gloss over the matter with talk of “just causes” or “the end justifies the means”.  Nope, he gets right down to the nitty-gritty. “You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it.”

And then the stone of self-deception is rolled over and certain ugly inner motivations are revealed.  “You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them.”

Then he reminds them where they need to go in order to get their true needs met. “…you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.”

This rings just as true if we spread that concept a little wider, to encompass the communities and nations of the world, don’t you think? Since the problem is in the human heart, no amount of education or social enlightenment is going to bring lasting peace. In fact, “peace on earth” is pie-in-the-sky idealism if God is not at the core of it all. According to God’s Word, the main battle arena is inside of us. We are born with a disposition toward selfishness and we tend to become anxious or fearful or angry when the world around us does not adapt to our needs and views. We think we see the whole picture, but our vision is riddled with blind spots (Jer. 9:10). 

God makes it clear that we cannot see clearly or fix our own hearts because both the blindness and the battle have spiritual causes. The enemy is not people or ideologies or wicked worldly systems. Paul describes the struggle very effectively in Romans 7. He says there is a dark power inside of us that is at war with our minds. We may desire to be in right relationship with those around us, but this power (Paul calls it “the flesh”) gets in the way. It is so entwined with our thinking and attitudes that we cannot get rid of it. In effect, we are enslaved by it. 

We need help and that help comes when we look to God and say, “I give up trying to do this on my own.  Will you help me?” And God gives us his Son. Jesus frees us from the malignant forces that would make us enemies of God and of each other. In fact, he offers a gift to those who believe in him and entrust their lives to him – peace of mind and heart. “And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

“Give peace a chance” may sound commendable on a placard or in a folk song, but it’s kind of like seeing a picture of a tasty meal when one is starving – it looks good but doesn’t solve the real problem.

Photo Credits: All from Creative Commons
Peace march -
Heart stone -