Peace be unto you.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 December

God’s into peace. It’s an aspect of his character we really don’t spend enough time on. But it’s a fruit of the Spirit, and something he wishes upon us, his creations, his children—as articulated by his angels when Jesus was born.

Luke 2.13-14 KWL
13 Suddenly there was a large number of the heavenly army with the angel, praising God,
saying, 14 “Glory in the highest heaven to God!
Peace upon the earth to the people he’s pleased with!”

Problem is, we Christians aren’t known for being peaceful.

This may be a fair assessment, and it may be unfair. After all, when Christians aren’t peaceful, it makes the news. When we are peaceful, it might become one of those happy-news stories at the end of the video, or in the back of the newspaper; it might go viral if it’s heartwarming enough. But it doesn’t always. It may very well be we Christians are doing a good job of demonstrating peace, and since the agitated minority gets all the press, we don’t look so good.

Anecdotal experience isn’t proof, but I’ll just say the Christians I know certainly aren’t all that peaceful. They freak out over every little thing. Just last Sunday, one of ’em was telling me that even though every single politician she preferred got elected, she’s still convinced it’s only a matter of time before freedom of religion is banned in the United States, and we won’t even be able to preach Jesus in private. I think she’s been reading too much Hal Lindsey, and she’s hardly alone.

But it’s not even limited to wild End Times fears. When terrorists attack, Christians want ’em dead just as much as any pagan. Lots of us own guns, and not just hunting rifles: When thieves break into our houses, we expect to shoot ’em dead same as any other vengeful homeowner. We claim it’s for self-defense and we’re being realistic and practical, but (unless we’ve got an even more twisted longing to shoot a bad guy and enjoy the experience of justifiable homicide) it’s really because we believe peace will only come once we destroy the things we fear. Or at least build giant walls to keep ’em out.

So I have serious doubts that peaceful Christians are a vast but silent majority. More than likely, they’re a tiny minority. (And I say “they’re” because neither am I as peaceful as I oughta be.)

Human substitutes for peace.

Ever hear of the pax Romana? Okay, you slept through history class; I’ll explain. It was one of the great achievements of the Roman Empire: Peace throughout all the territories they controlled; peace all along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. No matter where a Roman traveled, for thousands of miles, they didn’t have to worry about hostile foreigners. (Just highwaymen, rough seas, and the usual accidents.)

Okay, but how’d the Romans achieve this peace? Simple: Crucify anyone who creates a disturbance. Leave their groaning, bleeding body posted on the side of the highway for all to see, and feel horror and awe. Once every enemy is dead, you have peace. Right?

That’s the thinking behind the “peace through strength” which our government is so fond of using: Have a mightier military than everyone, and nobody will ever mess with us. Hasn’t worked so far, but defense contractors don’t mind.

The nonviolent method of peace arose in the 20th century—the passive resistance which Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. used. Stand up for what you believe in, stand up for your principles—but whatever you do, don’t return evil for evil. Don’t return fire. Don’t punch back. Don’t break anything. Don’t resort to violence. Don’t hate your opponent.

The nonviolent method has been described as Christlike, ’cause a great deal of it is based on Jesus’s teachings about not resisting an evildoer. Mt 5.39 And it works. It got India its independence; it brought the American civil rights movement farther than anything before or since. ’Cause it erases your opponent’s moral high ground.

But it has a rather significant problem: It can be used to support all sorts of things Jesus would never approve of. Fr’instance if prostitutes wanted to nonviolently stand up for their “right” to charge people for sex. They might win the day… but when it’s legal for people to use their bodies as a commodity, they immediately get exploited, and we wind up with sexual trafficking and slavery. Jesus’s form of passive resistance is meant to grow his kingdom, but people can and will use it to get their own way—and profit by it.

Lastly there’s libertarian peace: Not passive resistance, but passive acceptance. Live and let live. You do your thing, we’ll do ours, so long that it remains private, freely contented to, and stays out of everyone else’s way. “An it harm none, do what ye will,” as the Wiccans put it.

Going with the flow instead of fighting the tide surely looks like peace. We don’t argue, don’t worry, avoid controversy, stay away from drama. But we also bottle our frustrations, compromise our principles, and refuse to take a stand even when we really oughta. We permit an environment where evil people take advantage of our passivity, ’cause they realize once good people offer no opposition, their evil can thrive.

Okay, so why is the libertarian stuff fake? Because it’s an illusion of peace, and because all our efforts go into maintaining the illusion. Because we don’t really live in peace, but in worry, lest someone snap and violently cut loose. Because we know cooler heads won’t prevail: When violence does break out, we ditch “live and let live” and crack down. We start behaving like the Romans had the right idea all along.

God’s peace does none of these things. It produces no violence. No internal unrest. No fear or anxiety. Only a true, authentic inner peace—one which isn’t based on destroying or denying the things which disrupt peace. It’s based on a very simple act: Stop worrying about everything outside your control, concentrate on the things which are up to you, and seek God’s kingdom first and foremost. Mt 6.25-34

Trust God. Not circumstances.

Peace, as the scriptures define it, is knowing our place under God. We see harmony, solid relationships, kindness, love, generosity, forgiveness, patience, and all the other things which maintain our peace, because we submit to God like we oughta, and because we see others behave the way God wants us to.

We embrace optimism. Not self-delusionally; the world still sucks. But we’ve put our hope in Jesus, not the world.

John 16.31-33 KWL
31 Jesus answered them, Now you believe?
32 Look, it’ll be time (and is time) so each of you can scatter your own way
leaving me alone, yet I’m not alone, for the Father’s with me.
33 I spoke to you of these things so you’d have peace in me.
In the world you have suffering, but rejoice: I’ve conquered the world.”

It’s why we see conflict among fellow Christians: One or another of us—sometimes all of us—aren’t trusting God. We’re trusting money, guns, a stable government, job security, certain family or friendly relationships—even theological beliefs which are anchored in popular Christian culture rather than God. We’ve psyched ourselves into believing these things are part of his will. We’ve justified our sins to ourselves.

Fr’instance those Christians who refuse to spend money on the needy. They figure they’re practicing “tough love”—that in order to break the cycle of poverty, it’s best for the needy if they work to be worthy of it. They argue “We need to be good stewards of God’s money.” And any other justifications for stinginess. Whatever good excuse shuts up our consciences, and lets us feel okay—even good about ourselves!—for ignoring or denying the needy.

Problem is, doing so scorches our consciences, and you know that’s gonna have consequences later. A defective conscience means we’re gonna more easily stumble into evil.

Fruitful Christians seek God’s actual will, and don’t try to justify violating it for our own convenience. True, other Christians’ lack of peace (and other fruit) will regularly butt heads with our peace. Jesus got killed as a result of other people’s lack of peace. He warned us this stuff would happen; read that bible quote again. Life is suffering. We’ll get persecuted same as he did. Mt 5.11 But peace isn’t the product of a lack of suffering. It’s the product of knowing we’re right in the center—really in the center—of God’s will. It’s focusing on Jesus, just as he focused on his Father.

So despite the lack of peace around us, Jn 14.27 we can have a connection to God which exceeds anything we can understand, and guards our hearts and minds. Pp 4.7 It’s the inner peace which regularly becomes outer peace. (Beware any “inner peace” which isn’t contagious.) And God only puts it there once we follow him.