Prophets of Peace

W. F. Bellais II

 As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet.” Jeremiah 28:9

The first time I became aware of the reality of war happened in 1940. I knew about war a little earlier, but in 1940 my family attended summer motion picture showings in our naval housing area’s common green in Annapolis, Maryland. I have a vivid memory of seeing buildings collapse in a fiery heap, people being led from destroyed structures who had been badly wounded, and firemen pouring water on to multistory buildings that had been set afire by bombs from the sky. I was six years old and scared beyond belief. At six-years-old I had no idea that the dangers and terror seen on the screen could possibly happen to us, but by the time I was seven, thousands of Americans died from bombs falling from the sky.

Since that era (the era of the 1940s), we have not had peace. We have had the cold war punctuated by wars in Korea and Việt Nam, and other places around the globe. Many talked about peace, but few actually worked for the day when humanity could live peacefully with each other, with the world, and with God.

I am not a pacifist in that I would never engage in war[1], because I have; but I am a pacifist in the Christian sense of the word. As a Christian pacifist I want to speak in the words of Jeremiah for God, the God that calls us to a peaceful and thoughtful life.

In the Scriptural sense of the word a prophet is not one who predicts the future but rather speaks for God or is called to speak the Truth of God. Of course, there are all kinds of people who claim prophetic status but we can discern the true prophets when they speak of peace and the peace they speak of is realized.

It is not likely we will ever see true world peace; that is, the lambs will not likely lie down with the lions in our times or in the near future. Human nature is not easily changed. Humanity continues to hold to its cultural and ethnic prejudices, fears, and jealousies and it seems only after a dramatic change in human nature will those conditions change. That is, not until God’s rule is fully established in the way Jesus has described will true peace be realized. Nevertheless, in our lives and in our life times we can experience peace. That may seem to you a bold and contradictory statement, but we can experience peace in our lives.

If we are at peace in ourselves we may be able to have an influence on our environment and help bring peace to others.  As I said, we start with ourselves. We bring peace to ourselves by working to reduce inner stress, avoiding  unnecessary anger, and looking at others as being created in the image of God. First, however, we must see ourselves individually in that same image and honor that part of us that makes us creatures of God—the God who wants us to be at peace.

Well, you may argue, what God are you talking about? The Bible is filled with mean-spirited stories of murder and mayhem sometimes at God’s command. And then you may ask, “Where is the Christian pacifism you are talking about in the Scriptures or for that matter in the Church’s history?” My answer is, “Be careful when you read the Bible; know what it is and what it is about.” First, the beginning books of the Holy Bible are stories of a people who have discovered their own identity as a people and more importantly have discovered that there is only one God and that God is the creator of all. In their self-discovery and encounter with God they tell a brutal story. However, when they have matured as a nation, as a people, those who speak for God begin to understand that inter-personal conflict and constantly being at war brings only misery. Through the later prophets the question is asked, “Is this what God wants for us, for the world?”

So keep in mind that most of the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament, tells a story of an ancient people who face the challenges of their own times. We can learn from those challenges as we read their stories, but we must always remember that Jesus came to restate humanity’s relationship with God. Once we understand that new relationship we find that we can begin to have peace only when we are individually at peace.

To achieve peace at any level of our lives takes work. All around is an atmosphere of war. Not only international wars between nations, and now groups espousing hate, or civil wars between people of a nation, but the wars of civil disruption called crime, family stress, the abuse of God’s gifts to us, and the war of indifference to the needs of others. All of those conditions are a state of war against each of us. It is no wonder than that many in our world today live in misery, despair, and hopelessness. There is hope. The Christian life is the anchor on which we can hold out against all those wars raging around us.

However, I believe that too many people who claim the Christian life do not want to let go of the wars of their lives. They are comfortable with the warfare of life and that condition is actually their life’s anchor; their means of self-identification. Thus Christianity is only a veneer or façade.

To remove the false front requires a real effort to understand the Christian calling to go into the world tell the story of Jesus Christ. Christians are not called to destroy those who do not accept the story, or those who have another story, or those who think any story of God is invalid.

If there is ever to be universal peace or if we are to ever bring the decades of war to an end, we must begin with ourselves. We are called to live the story of Christ and to love the world as God loves it. Ultimately the followers of Christ cannot force the world to change; Christians can only bring change by being a reflection of God’s love. But more importantly Christians must be transparent enough so that the love of God, that is, Jesus himself, is seen and experienced through the lives of his followers. It is only when Jesus is seen in and through Christians that Christians can truly be Prophets of Peace.

[1] My history includes serving in the U.S. Military for over two decades and part of that time in combat areas. I have even felt an urge to shoot at an enemy out of rage. However, because war has been a part of my life from the earliest memories, I think it is time to find another way of living and thinking.

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