Peace and Peacemaking (1) – What is “peace”?

Peace:  What is it?

When we say we want to pursue peace, what do we mean?  What is it we are really after?

Is it absence of conflict?  Cease-fire?  Everybody getting along?

Surely, we can say that these are all well and good things to pursue, strive for and live out.  But is it enough?

Take the first idea: absence of conflict.  This presupposes that all conflict is in and of itself, bad.  We can all think of countless examples where this is true.  Take the cycle of world news, over just the past 100 years, and we can see all the damage and irreparable harm done by conflict.  This nation provokes that nation, and off to war we go.  If only we could get rid of conflict all-together.

In our very own SF Reporterthis week, you can read numerous accounts of how people have suffered in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime, in horrendous ways.  It could be argued that conflict was the reason why such a regime was able to come to power – the conflicting ideologies of an agricultural, self-sufficient communism over against the prevailing ideology of the indigenous Buddhism and growing capitalism of Cambodia.  Yet, it could also be argued that it took another conflict, eventually with the Vietnamese that was able to stop and overthrow the totalitarian regime.

Which “conflict” was wrong?  The starting of the Khmer Rouge, or the stopping by the Vietnamese?

Or take the idea of peace being a “cease-fire”.  If only we could take all the military industriousness away from making bombers and bullets, the world would be a better place.  We need to mandate an international “cease-fire”; no more war so that the world can be a better place. “Make love, not war.”

Technically, there was never a declaration of war, or outright battle between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War of the late 20th century, but would anyone who was alive during that time say that they felt “at peace”?

Is “peace” really a simple choosing not to pull the trigger?

Well if its not the absence of conflict, or a cease-fire, then surely it has to be “everybody getting along.”

Not so fast.  Who decides what “getting along” means?  What are the criteria for establishing who is getting along with whom, or the other way around, who is not getting along with whomever?

What if my way of thinking, my lifestyle, my understanding of what is right, comes into opposition with yours?  What if I think it was right that we sent a team of six Navy Seals to capture (or kill) Osama Bin Laden in a foreign country, and you don’t.  Can we really get along if I uphold a national exclusivism to my country’s aims, goals and actions, but not to yours?

Or what if I happen to say that there is such a thing as moral truth – of independent right and wrong – that everyone is bound by, but you say that even moral truth is relative to the individual and no one can impose on another a moral obligation they do not share?

Can we really get along if there is no basis of justification of executing justice in the face of criminal, harmful and destructive behavior?

John Lennon famously asked the world to “Imagine” a world with no religion.  And then in the chorus he pleads with his listeners to “You might say that I’m a dreamer/but I’m not the only one/I hope someday you will join us/and the world will be as one.”

In asking the world to imagine a world with “no religion”, one is left only to replace the vacuum with their own version of “acceptable”, “appropriate” religion.

Will we really be “at peace” if my freedom to believe as I do comes under the judgment of yours?  Isn’t this just another power play, of your world-view, perspective, ideology, dominating mine that is different?

None of these – absence of conflict, cease-fire, or just getting along – can be the final end of what we mean when we say “peace.”

In Matthew 5-7, Jesus is teaching his disciples what it means to be his followers.  At one point, he makes an interesting statement:

“Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God.”– Matt. 5:9 (ESV)

Obviously, Jesus had something for us to consider when talking about “peace”.  And not only consider, but actively pursue, seek out, or “make”.

 But what is that?

Next we’ll look at the biblical portrait of “peace” and see that maybe its not what we normally think it is.