In preparation for the sermon this Sunday on Isaiah 11:1-10, which speaks of the coming, empowered King that brings a peace that surpasses all expectations, I am left in reflection on the relationship between the peace that Jesus brings and the peace we seek to make. In Jesus beatitudes, Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”1 Jesus as THE Son of God who comes to bring peace calls those who are peacemakers children of God. Peace is the family business of God, and Jesus is the peacemaker who enables our ability to make peace. In the synonymous language of reconciliation, the Apostle Paul says “All of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us this ministry of reconciliation.”2 As God in Jesus makes peace/reconciles, we ourselves become part of the business of peacemaking/reconciliation.
Of course what it means to make peace and reconciliation is up for debate amongst different persons; for some ipeace is more about the cessation of conflict and living in harmony, whereas for others may evoke images of justice that makes peace possible. Furthermore, there is even debates on the ways one brings peace: is pacifism the only option or is there any violence and coercion that is justified as in just war theory? But at the core there is a deep Christian conviction that we are called to be people through whom peace develops. Such an idea no doubt sounds very noble; we appreciate the peacemakers of our day and age. People like Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela have drawn the respect of millions of people who simultaneously recognize the injustice in society and yet also desire for peaceful resolutions. So, many people, including many Christians, are tempted to take on this goal of being a peacemaker. They idealize within themselves a certain desire to be the source of peace, whether it be due to the joy of seeing people live together in love and justice or the prestige of being such a capable of person. To be a peacemaker is a noble goal.
Yet, to be a peacemaker is one that is not an easy task. With some of my observations, particularly at seminary, I have noticed many people who were ardent pacifists, and yet in their life they demonstrated anger and hostility in so many ways. To be honest, I flirted with the idea of pacifism, but beyond the fact that I could not accord the idea with the totality of Scripture, I saw many of the representatives of pacifism who seemed to be fighting more their own inner demons of anger than really achieve peace. Such a rule-bound ethic seemed to show little power in changing their inner hearts. Akin to Paul’s warnings about regulations in Colossians 2:20-23, pacifism seemed to be wise, but it seemed to be of little help in people’s formation. While acknowledging the brokenness and sin in all people, the passionate pursuit of the idea of pacifism frequently seemed to be an attempt to control one’s own inner anger by idealizing oneself as the opposite. This is not a denial of the ultimate goals of pacifism, but a critique of the means of attaining the goals of peace through pacifism by their ineffectiveness, along with the difficulty that Scripture presents against the pure pacifistic ethic. Peace is hard. Not simply because it is hard to get people on the same page, but because first and foremost we have to deal with our own inclinations towards anger, hatred, destructiveness, judgment, lack of forgiveness, etc.
My personal experience in seminary taught me that. As I struggled with my own struggle with those same emotions rooted in anger and disgust as I dealt with some difficult situations, I found myself become something very different. Up to that point, I had always thought of myself as a nice person who cared but I didn’t always understand what was going on with other people. So I pursued greater insight to overcome my weakness in understanding others that would then be combined with a deepening commitment to grace and mercy. I didn’t think myself as a “peacemaker” at the time, but more along the lines of a helper, and through learning and commitment I would be a more effective helper. However, as I dealt with an incredibly difficult situation in which my failures did contribute to the circumstances, I discovered over the course of time that there is the fountain of anger that existed in me. I no longer felt the the springs of life of God’s Spirit as flowing within me, but the bitter spring of anger. As I struggled to keep myself towards kindness, forgiveness, and peace, the reactions of others continued to reinforce the disdain and disgust. Peace is hard, and being a peacemaker is not an easy task.
Therein lies the wisdom of the Beatitudes. We might be tempted to take the beatitude of being a peacemaker as a stand-alone aphorism about the honor and noble virtue of peace. However, there is a deeper insight into Jesus’ beatitudes, as there is a pattern of spiritual and moral formation from the first to the last contained in the Beatitudes.3 One does not immediately become a peacemaker, but goes through the other aspects of human life; understanding the poverty in spirit, living within mourning over life, the experience of powerlessness in meekness, that deep desire for righteousness/justice, an impulse towards mercy, and a heart that is purified in intention to be in service to God. Each of these stages of human life and experience provides the framework for living into the next stage. Peacemakers must experience a deep understanding of the unfairness and darkness of life in poverty, mourning, and powerlessness, develop a deep desire for the alternative way of life in justice and mercy, and then have one’s intentions, desires, and beliefs purified for those goals.
Why? Because being a peacemaker brings a lot of hostility in return. Being a peacemaker often times entails calling down forms of unfairness, injustice, and abuse that exist because some people’s interests are being valued over and above other people’s interests. Being a true peacemaker where one does not simply paste over emotions to maintain a sense of civility, but addresses the deeper causes of conflict and/or abuse means one must face the harassment that comes when one runs up against people perpetuating the injustice. This is very next step in the beatitudes that follows being a peacemaker; peacemakers are persecuted. When that happens, a person who has not delved into their own anger and hostility will find themselves more becoming contributors to the unfairness rather than simply standing up against the unfairness.4 Without learning how to live with grace as one addresses difficult situations, one becomes a participant in injustice rather than an opponent of injustice.
Living honestly with one’s own desperation and the emotions of anger and fear those bring with the counter-weighing desire of justice and mercy is the start of peacemaking. In the bitter anguish of disaffection from others and even ourselves, we seek for the truth that will set things right, that will be the standard upon which all are expected to act according to. But as we move towards a desire for real peace, we discover the importance of grace. Living in imitation of the King of Peace Jesus who is filled with both grace and truth entails dealing with the fullness of life and its experience, the highs and the lows, the joys and the sorrows, the celebrations and the wounds, when we achieve our goals and when we do not, when we do good and when we tempted to and give in to sin. Then we give the space in our hearts for the Spirit of God to purify out hearts towards the goal of God’s reconciliation and peacemaking. Just as Jesus openly endured the sufferings of the cross as He committed Himself to God’s justice and love so that He Himself learned the necessary obedience,5 peacemakers must both openly face the prospect of death and a commitment to life to be transformed.
So we celebrate the coming of peace in the birth of Jesus this Advent and Christmas as a gift from God. But we should not forget that real, Godly peacemaking is difficult business. It is so difficult that a cross of love is the pathway to accomplish it.
- Matthew 5:9 [↩]
- 2 Corinthians 5:18 [↩]
- I learned this from my seminary class on Moral Development; Donald Joy is credited as the source of that idea, but I can not find any books or articles to cite [↩]
- And all to frequently, those who agitate will consider themselves persecuted rather than contributors. [↩]
- Hebrews 5:8 [↩]