A good question: Peace on earth – how?
One question, four answers
‘We need human security’
Peace is not simply the absence of war but rather has a qualitative element to it. This is why, for example, in Isaiah we learn that God’s anger will be kindled against nations that issue iniquitous decrees, rob people of their rights, acquire wealth at the expense of the poor or sit by complacently while some go hungry. The United Reformed Church and Methodist publication ‘Peacemaking: A Christian vocation’ describes how, from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem, the Bible witnesses to the profound value of life and peace (bit.ly/URCMpeace).
Our governments, through military intervention, may seek to bring about security but at what cost and to what ultimate purpose? We need today to take seriously an alternative concept of security – that of ‘human security’.
If you ask people what it means to be ‘secure’, most will talk in terms of security of income; good health and access to health services; secure neighbourhoods for children and a fair and equal system of justice. An absence of these things offers an opportunity for belligerent groups to exploit grievances and persuade people that violence is justified to bring about justice. The same argument is used to justify western-led intervention against such groups. It is not difficult to see how the cycle of violence can spiral.
To break out of this spiral, our societies must be more critical regarding the use of the military to achieve just causes. And it follows that we should invest massively in building peace at the community level through training and support. …
Steve Hucklesby is policy adviser for the Methodist Church
‘God must rule our lives’
I certainly do not know how to end all wars and to have world peace. What I do know is that the phrase ‘peace on earth’ at Christmas is not an empty hope for world peace. It is a remembering of how God in Christ actually brought peace on earth to the people of his favour in the past, and how he will indeed come again to establish his justice and righteousness. The second coming is the fulfilment of what Christ’s first coming inaugurated.
But what do the words of a whole heavenly host mean for us today, grounded in our everyday lives? The global aspect of this peace lies in the future, yet the birth of Jesus was to bring peace among God’s people. I believe there are three relationships in which we are to know and enjoy this peace: peace with God, peace with our own soul and peace with others – as much as it lies in us. This peace is not only the absence of conflict and animosity but also the presence of joy and tranquillity, and as much richness of interpersonal communication of which you are capable.
God’s purpose is to give you peace by being the most glorious person in your life. If we want peace in our lives, God must rule our lives. God’s purpose is not to give you a peace separate from himself. So, the key to peace is keeping together what the angels sang: Glory to God, and peace to all. What holds those two together? Believing and trusting the promises of God. In that believing is the peace with God, with ourselves and with others. In that trusting is the peace of God. He knows what he is doing. Be like the angels: Glory to God is the first thing. Peace among his people is the second thing…
Clare Callanan is a United Reformed Church chaplain for the British Army
‘Live a radically just, simple way’
When the writers of the Bible talked about peace, they meant something different to when the Roman empire used the word. When the empire talked about pax – peace and quiet, the Pax Romana, an imposed peace, an order, where everything’s all lined up with the trains running on time – then we should all sit down, shut up, stop listening to God, and do what our betters tell us to. But when the prophets talked about shalom – a wholeness, an integrity, a peace with justice, a connectedness, a living in right relationships – then we have to do and work towards something very different.
For me, the best example of the difference between pax and shalom is when Martin Luther King led his freedom marches through what was known as the white south of the US. People would object to him and claim: ‘My town was peaceful before you came.’ The civil rights movement shattered the unjust racist oppression of pax and brought about a situation where there were opportunities to move closer to shalom.
In the English language, in our minds and in most organised religion, pax and shalom are often conflated and confused. But our hearts know that Jesus is not the prince of a pax.
Quakers believe that we can work to reveal the kingdom of heaven on earth, now, in this life. Living our lives in the radically just and simple way that God calls us to, allows us to expose tiny portions of God’s grace – like some divine scratch revealing a beautiful picture. It’s not always easy but the result fills my soul! For me, this is working towards shalom on earth. …
Sam Walton is Peace and Disarmament Programme Manager for Quaker Peace and Social Witness
SALIM J MUNAYER
‘Challenge individuals to act’
People in the Holy Land – Israelis and Palestinians alike – are frustrated and depressed by decades of violent conflict and many gave up hope for a peaceful solution long ago. They feel powerless, having seen political leaders take steps towards ending the conflict time and again without ever making significant progress. As some would put it: in the Middle East, it’s always one step forward and two steps back.
Over 25 years of reconciliation work between Israelis and Palestinians have taught us at Musalaha that the conflict is not between states but between different groups of people. Where there is violence, those in power will often take the lead while the majority submits, out of fear, or resignation that there is nothing the individual can do. Experiences of violence have convinced many that nothing can be achieved without politicians.
Therefore, we need an approach that challenges individuals to take action in their personal context. Grassroots movements have the power to impact society and bring about change. Successful peace treaties and nonviolent protests around the world prove that change from the bottom up works. We believe that we are not doing this on our own account but in line with God’s work on Earth. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, teaches that it is our responsibility to work for peace by praying for those that are against us and by showing love to our neighbours and even our enemies, no matter how many times they hurt or wrong us. …
Salim J Munayer is Director of the reconcilliation organisation, Musalaha, a partner of Embrace the Middle East. Image not shown at his request
This is an extract from an article that was published in the December 2017 / January 2018 edition of Reform