By Ruth Rosell, Director of the Buttry Center for Peace and Nonviolence
It was still Christmastide – a season for celebrating the birth of Christ. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we had heard words from the prophet Isaiah declaring that God’s anointed one would be the “Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6) and the reign of God would be one in which “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is. 2:4). We had been reminded of Zechariah’s words that his son would prepare the way for One who would “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1:79). Once more we had heard the Christmas story of angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…” (Lk. 2:14).
With Christmas tree lights still twinkling, anticipating the Epiphany message of Christ bringing light into this dark world of sin, we heard the jarring news. After months of provoking Iran by withdrawing from the nuclear treaty and enforcing damaging sanctions, and after bombings, killings and threats were exchanged from both sides, our president ordered the killing of General Soleimani, one of Iran’s most powerful military commanders and leaders. It was by violence that this violent man died. The immediate response by Iranians was to demand a fierce revenge. Tuesday evening that revenge began and hopefully concluded with Iranian ballistic missiles hitting military bases in Iraq that house American troops, but with no casualties. Now we wonder what is next, aware that each violent reaction to violent action brings us closer to being sucked into a more encompassing war.
The Christ we’ve been celebrating spoke words to his violent world that have relevance to ours. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, don’t react violently against the one who is evil…” (Mt. 5:38-39, Scholars Version). Not only was Jesus a man of peace, he also knew that tit-for-tat acts of violence only escalate and go on endlessly. As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Such is the way of war, but it is not the way of Jesus, who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt. 5:44). Love does not mean warm fuzzy feelings, but genuinely desiring the well-being of others.
What can help bridge the yawning gap between God’s intention for peace on earth and the horrifying realities of hatred, violence, and war in our world? That is the question that we must ask ourselves. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Should not this then be what people of faith are called to do in our day? To exert every effort to block the movement toward war and instead to work for peace?
The events of the last few days have made me wonder how we have let the world get to this point of threat and peril. How can it be that our country is provoking an enemy and sending still more troops to the Middle East, after over $6.4 trillion dollars have been spent and an estimated 800,000 people have lost their lives since the start of the Iraq War?* If a violent approach is effective, would we now be again on the brink of an even more devastating war, after all of that?
And how can there still be in the world thousands of nuclear weapons, so destructive that no moral justification can ever be provided for using them? And yet they remain available to the command of reckless leaders with little moral compass. Why is it that at a time when the climate crisis threatens our existence that humanity keeps fighting against itself, instead of working together to accomplish what we must do in order to ensure a livable earth in the future? What is it about humanity that leads to so much that is senselessly destructive and violent? We definitely need a Savior, and we need to follow his way of peace.
I went to church on Sunday, hoping that the alarming world situation would somehow be addressed. It wasn’t spoken of directly. But Pastor Linda Wansing encouraged people to enter 2020 with a commitment to acceptance, love, and kindness, and to let these ripple out in extending circles. And that is a good way to nurture peace right where we are. But as people of faith we need to do even more to be makers of peace and to stand up against the powers moving us toward further war. With whatever influence we have in our work, congregations, communities, and as citizens, we are called to say ‘no’ to more war, to stand against the drumbeat of revenge, to protest military escalation, to support Congressional leaders working to restrain presidential war powers, to pray, and to nurture a culture of peace.
Coming after the Beatitudes in which he blessed the peacemakers, Jesus spoke these words of encouragement and challenge, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything… You are the light of the world…Let your light shine…” (Mt. 5:13-16).
Winter sunrise on a world in need of God’s peace
Posted January 8, 2020
*Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, 20 Years of War: A Cost of Wars Research Series.