By: Woodrow Odom Lucas
Growing up as an Episcopalian, instead of greeting each other during fellowship time with a hello or God bless you, we would rather say, “The peace of the Lord be always with you…and also with you.” In truth, as a youngster I had very little comprehension of the act of wishing peace or even literally “sharing peace” with other believers. As a youngster I looked upon this tradition as just another way of being polite. But after entering into adult life with all of its stressors and obstacles, I think that the notion of “passing peace” has revolutionary possibilities.
As a citizen of the United States of America, I find it hard to focus on peace. America is a society that glorifies violence, contest, and victory. We live in a culture that deifies struggles for supremacy among people. We watch sports which truly hinge on “battle” even if it is friendly and entertaining, and we watch reality TV shows which create a warlike atmosphere of survival of the fittest where the unfit are voted off the show. Our democracy has become a spectacle of “saying and doing anything to win,” and our economic system of distribution hinges on people acting as though they are in a competitive war of all against all.
According to several reputable sources such as “The CIA’s World Factbook,” “The Bureau of Labor Statistics,” “The 2010 Democracy Index,” “Unicef,” and “The King’s College London’s World Prison Brief” the United States ranked in the lowest strata among “economically advanced” countries in income inequality, unemployment, food security, life expectancy, rates of incarceration, and student math performance. In a country with the highest GDP, we experience a “quality of life” which is much less vital and dynamic as the quality of life in most other so-called advanced polities.
So although we live in arguably the most prosperous country in the world, there is a conspicuous lack of ‘peace’ in our midst. As a Christian, in my search for peace, I am compelled to ask whether or not the bible affirms a notion of peace. Jesus in Matthew 10:34-37 states, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.37 Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
After reading Matthew 10:34-37 one might conclude that even our Lord Jesus embraces the notion of war and that he too asks us to choose him over others. It is my belief that Jesus in stating that he comes not to bring peace but a sword, is simply describing the effect that his ministry had on his people. A savior who started out saying, “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God,” has witnessed the uproar and confusion of his impactful and controversial ministry and is stating perhaps in regretful angst and frustration that while he wished to bring peace, that war is what ended up ensuing. I also ponder whether or not the “war” that Jesus brought was a necessary uprooting of dead traditions and stagnant lifestyles such that “true peace” could come in that confusion’s wake. But even if Matthew 10:34-37 not only justifies war, but advocates for it, I wonder? Did Jesus mean for us to take this text from Matthew and use it as an excuse to operate in emulation, jealousy, competitiveness, and selfishness toward one another.
Equally prominent in scripture are excerpts from The Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus tells us to love our enemies, do good to them that hate us, and pray for those that despitefully use us. Is Jesus telling us to do these things as a way to maintain a kind of “peace” in the social order? Is Jesus telling us to do these things so as to somehow keep ourselves pure and holy and “unspotted” from the world? Or is Jesus recommending something to us in advising us to love our enemies that accomplishes both a social end on the macro level and personal growth on the individual level?
Unfortunately, as with most tensions in Christian scripture, we do not have Jesus in physical form to clarify seemingly stark contradictions in the Christian text. Yes, we can pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit for guidance and hope to get revelation, but until we are “face to face” with God in the hereafter or after the Second Coming, we “see as through a glass darkly” and “we only perceive in part.” So left with the reality that Jesus at least indirectly seems to condone war in one of the Gospels, but also praises peacemakers and stresses love for enemies in that very same Gospel, we are left to make a choice. One of the problems with attempting to use the bible as a text of “absolute” authority to the very letter of every verse, is that it frustrates the free will that God has given us. God wants us to learn and grow, and the only way to do that is to make decisions, make mistakes, and learn from every experience.
So in the face of scriptural ambiguity on “peace” and “peace making” I make the conscious decision to stand with peace and to believe that Jesus wants me to stand with peace much more so than to engage in war. In my experience, people who have truly felt the peace of God flowing through them are usually bending over backward to feel such peace again. And what would the world look like, if we all had inner peace? What would life be like if we all had so much peace that we were content with what we have and we felt no need to “strive for more?” What would families be like if husbands and wives had the inner peace to accept each other as they are and to be tolerant in the face of fault and disagreement? What would workplaces be like if employees had the peace such that they need not distract themselves with the internet or gossip, but the serenity and calm which peace begets help them to attend to the tasks at had? And what would our world look like if our political leaders had the peace to walk with pure motivations rather than attempting to heap power and prestige unto themselves.
In this brief reflection on peace, I must admit that I don’t possess anywhere near the peace that I want to enjoy. But I am truly waking up to the idea that “peace” whether it is biblically supported or not, is one of God’s greatest gifts to us and am moved to pray, “Lord God, we thank you for your love and we thank you for your joy. But Lord God, there is something that is missing from our souls and from our culture as a whole, and that is your peace. Lord God please shower every soul in the United States of America and every soul in the world with your peace. Lord God, please bless the holy spirit within each of us to turn peace on at the center of our souls like a faucet. Lord God please create suns of peace which radiate peace’s soothing presence to us all. Lord God please inundate every aspect of our beings with peace. And Lord God, please bring peace to all of our relationships and enable us to seek peace out with our friends, acquaintances, and enemies. Lord God, I know that love is the answer but peace is most definitely a close second and our lives have become so fraught with unhealthy levels of technological and social stimulus and over booked schedules full of frenzy and stress. So Mother-Father God, please bless every single one of us with the sublime fragrance of peace so that we can appreciate the changing of the seasons and we can approach every life circumstance with the serenity of gratitude. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.”