Tuesday 11 March 2008

What Does the Bible Say About Peace? Or Does The Bible And Peace Overlap At All?

What Does the Bible Say About Peace?
Or Does The Bible And Peace Overlap At All?

When one mentions the bible and peace in the same breath, in to days world, it can often lead to debate, arguments, frustration and even anger. So even to begin with the topic of the bible and peace is difficult at best. Especially if one is trying to combine academic aspirations and deep profound personal belief.

I know that I am full of contrary notions and behaviors. I have come to accept the dichotomy that is myself, full of lofty idea?s, notions and beliefs?s; and also base actions and great failures to those ideals and to God. Yet this is also the understanding of peace and the bible that I am coming to from this course. I see the Bible as a book about peace, but most of it?s examples and stories are the stories of where peace is lost or forfeited by our old/sinful self.

In this paper I will try and define my understanding of peace, how peace and the bible relate, also how I relate to the concepts of peace/shalom and the Bible. I will be looking at a few passages from the course work that have really affected me. I will also try and tie together the many loose ends that the readings, lectures, bible itself and my own thoughts on each of the previous three. I know even now that I will barely scratch the surface of these topics, and my own study of this theme has only just begun through this course and it will be a lifelong pursuit.

My first task will be to define peace or shalom, as I will be using them from now on in this paper. I like what Westermann has to say in The Meaning of Peace, (pp 19,20), that shalom can only be present when there is wholeness or completeness in all areas of an individuals life. Douglas Harris in Shalom, describes it as wholeness, welfare and well-being. I agree in essence with both of these authors. However I see the dichotomy in the concept of peace up against that of Shalom. In the first class on September 14, we as a group flowcharted our ideals on Peace, and some of the dichotomy?s in our ideals. This is contained in appendix A. As can be seen from this chart the concepts and idea?s that ?Peace? brings to mind are many and varied. My working concept is that Shalom and Peace are two overlapping circles, Shalom is the ideal or goal and peace is what we often settle for. Not that we would stop striving for the goal. Shalom should be our hope and our aspiration.

I will first look at some Old Testament passages, the first in my opinion is the perfect example of my definition of shalom. Leviticus 26:3-6, in this passage God promises complete blessings and protection, if the Israelites will only follow God?s commands and statutes. There is in these three short versus promise of plenty of food, protection on land, and peace(shalom) for the people. In fact most of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are the promise of peace ,if. These two books are filled with ?if ... then? statements. If you do this... then it will go well with you. These are God?s offer, and promise of peace if the people will only live in His Ways. Yet time and time again the people turn away to their own ways, and forsake God. There are examples of this turning aside by both individuals and by communities, or most of Israel.

The first example I will look at is that of King David. David, who was called a man after God?s own heart, yet not only committed adultery, but tried to cover it up in two different ways. This story is covered in 2 Samuel11-12. Because of this sin against others and God had great ramifications on David, His Family and also the nation. In 2 Samuel 12:7-15, is God?s judgement on David, this judgement includes the death of the child of this union; adultery will be done unto David and it will be public, and the sword and strife will follow David and His house. The loss of shalom to the Kings house, caused major problems in the whole kingdom. For as the battle for the crown between David and his son, Absalom, the whole nation was in a state of lack of unity, loss of shalom.

The next example predates the previous, and it is the story of the war with Benjamin, as seen in Judges 19-21. In this story, 11 tribes go to war with Benjamin because of a call to battle by a Levite. In Judges 20:18 the first major mistake is made by the 11, they enquire of the Lord, ?Who shall go up first.? When they really should of been asking if they should be going up. They make this mistake two times, and get beaten back by Benjamin. They also end up committing a greater sin in providing wives for the remaining Benjaminits because of their rash oaths. This who section leads into the period of Kings, with the final verse of Judges, there was no king in those days, and every one did what was right in their own sight(Steve?s Paraphrased Version).

Thus the shalom that was to be established by the 12 tribes being a federation under God had failed. The people had gone there own ways. This lead to the poeple asking for a King, to be like the nations around them. The role and responsibilities of the King changed through different periods of Hebrew history. But it was expected that a King would guide and rule, and be a guarantor or peace. That a king would reward good, and punish evil. However this seldom was the case. Saul, David and Solomon each had good starts but each messed up majorly as kings, and each caused a loss of Shalom. Then in the post exilic writings a new vision of a King came into the writings, that of king as worship leader, priest.

This exilic vision of the king, was very different from that at the end of Judges. At the end of Judges the people believed a King could and would solve most of their problems. Unfortunately, the King really just added a whole new set of problems into the social structure. In first Samuel 8:11-18, detail all the ways a good king will be taxing on the people. He will take the best of all they have, fruit, flocks, offspring, produce. And all of his sins end up bringing problems on the whole nation, as seen above in the case of David. Where in the exilic writings they look back and see the problems with the King system, so they rewrite the role of king. He is to sit in the temple, lead worship, copy scriptures, be a judge. This is almost a looking back at the Judges period with longing, for ?The Good old Days.? Or it is a synthesis of the 3 periods of there history so far. People as slaves, people as group of federated tribes, and a nation under God through a king.

Thus it is not surprising that Jesus was not recognized by most as the long awaited Messiah, The Prince of peace, The Prince of Shalom. Some were expecting a revolutionary, a strong king with a Mighty right arm, a ruler to overthrow the established Roman rule, and return Israel to it?s military and political prestige of the past. When Christ came preaching release to the captives, the sick healed, the bound loosed. He was not what most were expecting or what most wanted in their Messiah, their Shalom among them. They were expecting A warrior, and they perceived Jesus as a rabble-rouser, a subversive. They wanted the Peace of military might, he offered true peace of the year of the Lord, the Jubilee.

Jesus came to teach a new way, what Walter Wink calls ?the Third Way?. Jesus shows this in many passages but the two most powerful are Mark 12:13-17, and The Sermon on the mount/plain. In these instances Jesus is showing that there are more options open to us then we often think. And if we are to be instruments of peace, we will need to be listening to the voice of God in order to notice these counter cultural ways. Our options are not to just be submissive and take all the abuse, and not the other extreme of open revolt or becoming the abusers our selves. But Jesus 3rd way is to exert our personhood, to take back our equality, and to be workers for peace on a different level. We are to be wagers of peace. What all this means I have not figured out, but I have come to understand that I need to be much more reflective on my actions and the underlying reasons for those actions. I need to be cognoscente of why I do what I do, and where it is leading me in my life. Either as an instrument of peace, or of chaos, conflict and destructions.

One of the biggest things I have learnt from this course, is something that Tom said in class, ?You can never count on God behaving the way you want. He is sneaky and ingenious in ways he seeks peace.? There are example after example of this in the Bible. God will go to nearly any lengths to make peace with us frail, sinful, sinfull, obstinate, proud, haughty hardhearted people.

My Favorite example of God?s sneakiness in waging peace is the story of Jonah and Ninevah. From the beginning Jonah knew God would forgive these people and not work his wrath on them. Jonah knew if he went and preached the judgement on them, that they would repent, and God would relent. That is why Jonah tried to run away. Yet how often are we like Jonah, are we called to bring about repentance, change, or reconciliation, and we try and run away from what God is calling us to do. In playing ?Jonah? this way, we are being instruments of unpeace, or we are being counter peace agents. We should all glory and bring glory to God, when we are at peace with Him, at peace with others, and can be open to being used as His instruments of peace.

Yet in order to be open to being these warriors for peace. We need to know God, and His story; through the bible. Only by being familiar with God?s ways, can we be keeping our eyes open for ways in which he is trying use us. God does want to use each of us as his instruments. We need to be part of his family through accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. Then by having the covenant of Peace, can we receive the Holy Spirit, and be open to god?s directing us to be his tools of peace.

I now want to look at this concept of the Christian Struggle. Or how does the Christian Wage peace. On my arm I have a tattoo of the shield of faith, the swords of the spirit, the helmet of salvation(crown of life). And the shield is embossed with a roaring lion, the lion of Judah being a title for Christ Jesus. When I got this ink work done some seven or eight years ago, I saw the Christian church as an army. An army That I had been called to fight in. To be a soldier for light in a world of darkness, in which many do not even recognize the darkness they are in. Though I still believe those things, through this course I have a very different opinion of what they mean. In no longer believe that it is all about spiritual warfare as some authors and theologians(I use the term loosely) would have us believe. For example Mark I. Buebeck, Neil T. Anderson, Frank E. Peretti, all have some good points, but tend to focus on the spiritual side too much, and not our responsibilities on the human side, to be seeking shalom.

So I will now look at Ephesians 6 in light of these new insights. Ephesians 6:10-18 sets the context for The struggle in the Christian life I believe for the individual and corporately. Like the comparison of peace and shalom, this concept was outlined as two overlapping circles. The first is the old life, or old age. Old age being time before Christ. The second is the new age, or our life in Christ. There is a very clear line drawn bisecting the first circle at the beginning of the second. The shaded area where the two circles overlap is the battleground. Either he battleground within the individual, or that of the Christian community and it?s struggles to bring light into the world. The moment of transition from non believer to believe, from old life to new, our personal Pentecost experience. This moment is that line bisecting the first circle. This call from Paul in Ephesians 6 is a call to be fully human, not just human, to be fully alive, not just living.

Thus we have a synthesis of The Divine Warrior, and us as his soldiers. But our battle is to be different, we are to be warriors, for peace, we are to exemplify each of the pieces of Armor in Ephesians 6, we are to be truthful, righteous, bearers of good news, faithful, instruments of salvation (Shalom), open to the spirit, and prayer warriors. We are to integrate, into self all of these aspects of the Divine Warrior, Our God and Father, Jesus our Lord and Savior. We are to integrate all aspects of this holy soldier, from Isaiah 11,52,59 and Ephesians 6, and finally 1st Thessalonians. We as individuals and as communities are to be Holy, are to be soldiers, are to be working for peace, especially when it is hard and outside of our comfort zone.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Christian life is a battle. But through this course I have come to see that that battle is one of being instruments of Shalom, we are at war, but not with other people, with the princes and powers. We are to extend the left hand of peace to the people and help to bring them into the light. I used to believe that spiritual warfare was the greatest calling in the Christian church, I am shifting my thought to the peacemaker is the role to be treasured and pursued by all Christians. That will incorporate spiritual warfare, but that is not the be all and end all of the Christian life.

I want to get personal now, in how this course has affected me. I could maybe even go so far as to say afflicted me. Afflicted me to examination of conscious, motives, actions, and my life as a whole. This course as well as some others in my studies for ministry. I want to share an experience that started last year. In The Introduction to Catholicism course with Christine Vanin last year we did the Book, and watched the Movie ?Dead Man Walking?. That book had a profound effect on me. When I was in High school, I was at a party one night, and I wanted to leave because I had to play rugby the next day. I was suppose to drive a friend and fellow rugby player home Bill MacLeod. He wanted to keep drinking so I left him behind, and never saw him alive again. He had hitched hiked home from the party. He was picked up by a group of men, raped, tortured, and left to die in a field. Only one of the men was ever caught, he is currently in prison. Someone I know is a guard at this prison, I used to rejoice at every attempt on this man?s life. I wanted to see the death penalty come back to Canada. I have visited the room in Kingston where the last execution in Canada took place. During the course work last year, my opinion changed. I as a Christian cannot support the death penalty. As a result of this I have started corresponding with a prisoner on death row in the states. I can not excuse their crimes, but I can work at overcoming my own prejudices and biases, to extend love and friendship to these people. I do not know all the answers, but I can work at being an instrument of shalom. I am planing on writing Bill?s murderer and extending to him my forgiveness and friendship. This is a direct result of this course, and the call to be shalom makers.

Another way this course has changed my views, is that I have never had a problem with military service. In fact while at Queen?s University during dessert storm there was a group of us, that were going to sign up if the war had continued. We were willing to go and fight this just cause. Now I do not believe I could in good conscious serve in the military in a fighting capacity. It would be contrary to my ideal of being one who is called to wage peace.
In summary, I still believe the bible is a book about peace, where most of the examples are where peace was lost or forfeited. But our responsibility as Christians, in writing the continuation of the book of Acts in our day to day personal, communal, and corporate lives should be working to write the new chapters where Peace and Shalom is being worked out, and brought about. We need to be consciously, actively working at being instruments of peace, and aware that it is a battle we are in to wage that peace in a way that will bring honor, glory and praise to our God.

I still have a lot of pieces of the puzzle to work with. But only as I seek ways to actively engage in being a peacemaker will I be able to fit them into the puzzle of ?The Bible and Peace?. I will also discard the pieces I have placed that do not belong in the picture. The process is continuous and ongoing, each time I believe I have God narrowed down on a topic He throws me His curve. Then the quest to know Him, His ways and to live for Him begins again. That is the wonderful adventure of being a Christian, the quest is ongoing and ever changing, continually bringing new challenges and calling us to more and to lift us up higher.

At this point I can say I do not understand it all, but I can say Shalom, I am at Shalom, with myself, with my awesome Creator God, and with my community. My prayer is that that Shalom will ever be deepening and growing, as I seek to be it?s servant, it?s student, and to others less far on the journey hopefully it?s teacher.

Appendix A

1. Brain storm from September 14th 1999 on word "Peace";
  • Shalom
  • Absence of War
  • Love
  • Justice
  • 60's
  • disarmament
  • Harmony
  • mediation
  • happiness
  • well-being
  • nonviolence
  • Equality
  • conflict
  • compromise
  • serenity
  • freedom
  • solidarity
  • Health
  • active
  • action
  • Peacemakers
  • community
  • God
  • quiet
  • Security
2. Dichotomy's in above idea's or in concept of Peace;
  • Individual vs communal
  • passive vs active
  • justice vs quiet
  • religious vs political/social
  • process vs result
(note: vs, can mean contrary to, or of or against, or in addition to)

*Taken from personal class notes.

(First Written for RS 353 Peace and the Bible Fall 1999.)

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