Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Advent, Day 4: Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.

- Isaiah 2:3b-4

My mother used to sing me a lullaby, and I, in turn, sing it to my daughter. It's this Simon & Garfunkel song. Sure, it comes from the days of hippies and anti-war sit-ins. Does that make it politically partisan or overly idealistic? Only if you insist on limiting its scope. When people joke scornfully about the people of the world just holding hands and singing together, the implication is that blithe optimism does nobody any good. In this they are correct.

I don't believe that there will ever be a time of world peace. I don't think humans are built for it. Nevertheless, this is the vision that prophets like Isaiah give us. True, the prophet Joel at one point gives us the reverse image of turning ploughshares into swords, but this is not an image of the ultimate aim of God's universe. God wants world peace, whether we ever get it or not.

Furthermore, I don't believe that world peace is something that just breaks out suddenly. We work for peace wherever we can, and we work hard for it. Peace does not mean the absence of conflict, but its transformation in the context of real relationship. Peace means learning how to deal constructively with disagreements. There is no such thing as "peace through strength"; that is just domination. That was the kind of "peace" put forth by the Roman Empire, and American politicians espouse nothing different from that. "Peace through strength" tends to make other nations angry and resentful. By contrast, real peace involves a refusal of violence on all sides, including the violence of strong-arming into submission. It involves the sharing of power.

You might see why I'm saying that I don't believe we'll ever achieve this peace. Humans can't get there. Instead we say, "Work for justice; pray for peace." There is no peace without justice, so our first step is clear. And justice doesn't mean mere punishment, as when politicians say, "We will bring the terrorists to justice." It's much bigger than that. Godly justice is about restoration of right relationship. We can do a lot in this area, but for justice too, we need to pray as well as work.

Did you know that there is less violence in the world right now than there has ever been before in all of human history? It doesn't feel like it because we are so digitally interconnected. And there is certainly plenty of hate and resentment to go around, always threatening to break out in violence. But maybe we really are learning a thing or two about peace--very, very slowly.

And when all else fails, there is still the kind of peace that Jesus brings us: not the kind of peace we work for in the world, but the kind that comes to us unbidden at moments when we most need it. Come, Lord Jesus.

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