Peace in our lives

When a game of football or cricket is over, the losers might feel a bit sore, writes the Revd Mark Woods, editor of Christian Today. But it’s only a game, and they get over it. War isn’t a game, though. It leaves lots of losers behind, many of them even on the ‘winning’ side as they struggle to deal with what they’ve been through.

The First World War was no different. Many of those who lived through it were never the same again. Some were wounded or shell-shocked. Wives who’d waved their husbands off to war had to cope with the very different men who’d returned deeply-changed by their experience of extreme violence.

Peace was political, not personal. Even that political peace was flawed. The Treaty of Versailles punished and humiliated Germany and led to an even greater conflagration 20 years later. And the war led to the collapse of Russia and the rise of communism, with consequences we are still facing 100 years later. There was also profound and disorienting social change, as women who’d been doing so-called men’s work fought to retain the new freedoms they’d found.

The Bible has lots to say about peace. But it’s clear that peace is not just the absence of war. Neither is it peacefulness in the sense of being untroubled. Peace means being in a right relationship with God, with other individuals and with wider society.

Christians believe that peace with God comes through faith in Jesus Christ. When he says, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me,’ (John 14:6) he is making a remarkable claim.

Christians believe God was in Christ in an absolutely unique way. Following him restores a broken relationship. But it’s not just an abstract transaction: Jesus also says, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10).

This is an extraordinarily powerful statement. It’s a mandate for Christians to help and heal all those in need. It says that it’s not right for people to be broken by war or poverty or sickness. It’s God’s ‘no’ to everything that ties us down or holds us back.

We’re also to be in a right relationship with other people, at a quite personal level. The ‘old order of things’ John speaks of in Revelation 21:4 includes anger, revenge, a harsh or competitive spirit and an unwillingness to forgive.

Following Jesus demands a completely different way of relating to others. It’s very demanding. Paul writes to the Ephesians: ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4: 2-3).

Peace also means being in a right relationship with society. This is something it’s easy to lose sight of. The New Testament doesn’t really have much to say about systems of government. It takes them for granted. The gospel reforms society from the bottom up.

The kingdom of heaven which Jesus talks about grows within the kingdoms of this world. It changes nations because it changes people. And peace in this sense can mean protest, as Jesus protested in the Temple against the oppression of the poor by the greedy (John 2:15). It’s a divine discomfort with the way things are and a refusal to accept that tomorrow has to be the same as today.

The end of the centenary of World War 1 is a time to think about peace. Historians can write about the failures that followed it, and how the chance to make the world better was squandered. But for Christians there’s a deeper lesson: peace begins with the healing of hearts, the restoring of relationships and with a deep, costly commitment to justice.

When that sort of peace is present, war becomes unthinkable. Without it, it’s all too likely. The old order of things has not passed away yet.

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