John Lennon used to sing that we should give peace a chance.
It’s been the mantra of political campaigns – from both the left and the right – since the 1960s, and, more recently, since the start of the never-ending War on Terrorism.
Scripture even says that those who seek after peace will be blessed … and persecuted for their efforts.
Everyone seems to want peace, but what does it mean, from a biblical perspective, to truly seek peace. It is a question that, I believe, we struggle with answering. Part of this is because our first instinct, and understandably so, is to simply end the bullets from firing, from wars being instigated, and from people being killed. Our desire for the humanity of all people – regardless of what side of the war they are on – desires that lives to be protected. Yet, the other side of the coin is that, often, we’re not sure what it means to truly seek peace. We don’t know where to begin, and, thus, we don’t know how to interact in our communities, our nations, and our world to seek true Christian peace.
While this blog does not attempt to give the end all remedy of what it means to seek peace in the world, but to offer some perspective that may put our efforts to seek peace in perspective.
We have to change our thinking of what it means to seek peace. When we think of peace, as I said, our first inclination is to simply “stop the violence.” But, to stop the violence does not get to the root causes of the violence. We may have stopped the bullets from being fired, but all that might have been accomplished is a momentary cease fire of hostilities before the next skirmish or hostility begins.
To seek peace means we must get to the deeper issues involved. We have to get to the root issues of what causes war, and not simply promote the end to violence. This, I believe, requires a holistic peace that encompasses both the individual and the community that promotes humanity as being created in the image of God.
It is the message of peace, I believe, we find when we look at the words typically translated as peace in the Old and New Testaments. The Hebrew word shalom focuses on an aspect of wholeness and unity, before discussing the removal of physical strife. This is true for the Greek words eirene, which focuses on the tranquility aspect of peace, and teleios and its use of focusing on end perfection. The word sozo focuses on the aspect of peace that is most familiar to many of us, which is the absence of physical strife.
Taken together, these words would seem to indicate that peace, first, begins within the individual and then spreads to the larger community. In order to seek peace, we must first find peace with ourselves. What does it mean for each of us to be created in the image of God? How is God working in my life? How is God restoring my soul from hurts, pains, and addictions that I have suffered in my life? In what ways is God restoring me into the image God desires for me?
These questions are answered as we grow closer to God in relationship with the entire Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we grow closer, and deepen our trust in God, we are blessed with an inner peace in the depths of our soul, a peace that surpasses all understanding. We are transformed into the image of God, and that image God desired from us at the birth of creation and our existence. Even more, we become dependent on the blood and the resurrection of Christ when we stumble, when we fall, and we make the wrong decisions, think the wrong things, or act inappropriately. We are all bound to mistakes, but this desire for peace is at the center of what it means to trust in the Risen Lord.
As we grow closer to God, our desire for peace becomes more effective and lasting. We are no longer seeking a peace that simply ends violence, but desires communities to be transformed, people to see their enemy as their brother, and to see the world live in peace with one another. Our faith is seen in the world as our love for the world. Peace must be rooted in love, and not in a desire to end violence because it suits our interests, or protects our oil supply. It must be rooted in a desire to do what is right, to do what is just, and to do what is loving.
To seek peace will not always be easy, in fact to seek true peace will be difficult. Yet, the peace that we are called to seek is not the peace the world desires, thus this peace is counter-cultural to the ways of the world, and it is needed in this time of strife all throughout Africa, in the Middle East, and here in our communities. We must stand for true peace. We must stand for our friends. We must protect the humanity of God’s creation.
We must love and desire peace to reign from the mountaintops, to pour into the hearts of the people, and to transform the world.