Monday, April 30, 2007

War and Peace: Part I

There is much talk about “peace” these days. As a Christian, I try to view peace from a biblical perspective. One of the Beatitudes in the New Testament is: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NRSV) I would like to expand upon that Beatitude and put “peace” into some sort of perspective. In a future blog posting I will give some thoughts on Iraq and the Middle East situation.

Peace is not only the absence of war, but it’s the absence of personal conflicts. Peace is also that sense of security, well-being, and comfort that we all want to have. In discussing peacemaking in the context of this Beatitude, I believe we have to focus on personal relationships, not necessarily government actions. Nevertheless I want to briefly discuss peace as it relates to government actions since that is in the news quite a bit these days.

Governments and Peace

It is generally understood that nations and governments are not necessarily subject to the same biblical principles as individuals. Governments have certain duties that individuals typically don’t have: to maintain security and order, and to protect its citizens against lawlessness, disorder, and invaders.

However, Christians have tried to apply Jesus’ teachings to government for nearly 2,000 years. Great minds such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin have struggled to reconcile the teachings of Jesus with the duties of governments to protect their citizens. They came up with the concept of a “just war” These define specific situations in which governments are morally justified and even duty-bound to engage in armed conflict for the good of their citizens. Most people believe that war must be the last resort for a government to take, when diplomatic and other efforts have failed, and there is no other way to protect its citizens from imminent harm. Most people don’t want to live through a war with all of the tragedy, death, disruption, and destruction that inevitably results.


However, I suspect many individuals are quite content to not live in peace with their neighbors, but to continuously be at odds with them. While some people are absolutely opposed to war, they are less than peaceable in their personal relationships. Moreover, I find it hypocritical when peace demonstrations turn violent or nasty.

I believe Jesus was focusing on personal relationships in this Beatitude, because that’s where we as individuals have some control. We can’t always control what a government does, but we can control our own behavior.

Unfortunately, many people don’t want to be peacemakers in their personal relationships, and that’s why Jesus mentioned peace-making in the Beatitudes. This Beatitude falls towards the end of the list because I believe it incorporates several of the other Beatitudes previously mentioned, such as:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

You will be a peace-maker (and a peace-keeper) if you are meek, righteous, merciful, and pure in heart. I see a proactive aspect to this peace-making Beatitude: we are to go out and actively make peace. Peace-making is proactive: you work to make peace where there is no peace. The peace-maker works to resolve the issues that are dividing the parties so that there is a permanent absence of conflict, not just a truce.

Two Kinds of Peacemaking

As an individual, you can be a peacemaker in two ways: First, you can initiate peace between yourself and someone else. This involves forgiveness and mercy. When there is some sort of discord between yourself and someone else, you can make the first move. You can be the one to forgive, to offer mercy, to extend the olive branch, to begin the process of achieving peace.

Even if your peace-making initiatives are not accepted by the other party, you can have an inner peace because you did the right thing. You can’t control what the other person does, but you can take the high road yourself and obey biblical teachings.

The second way you can be a peacemaker is to work to get two different parties to stop their fighting and get back into right relationship with one another. This can be a dangerous activity, because you can get caught in the cross-fire. Both sides may hate you, since both sides in the conflict may not be interested in peace. Both sides may be so invested in this conflict that they have no intention of ever changing their lives by ending it. Yet I believe we are called to be peace-makers, despite the cost.


As a Christian, I believe Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker because he made peace between God and humanity, and taught his followers to have peace with fellow human beings. We read about the peacemaking work of Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:18b-19, NCV:

Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself, and God gave us the work of telling everyone about the peace we can have with him. God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself. In Christ, God did not hold the world guilty of its sins. And he gave us this message of peace.

Since Jesus is the ultimate peacemaker, the Prince of Peace, let us do the same, as we are called to do:
·Make peace where there is no peace;
·Maintain peace where there is peace;
·See that we have pure motives in all we do;
·Seek justice so that peace does not come at the expense of someone else.

Blessed are the peacemakers. No matter what your religious beliefs, let's make the world a better place by going out into a hurting world and sowing seeds of peace wherever we go.

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