Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Search for Peace

One of the most famous "end times" sermons is the one preached by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 24 (also Mark 13). If its words, "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars... Nation will rise against nation" (Mt. 24:6-7), sound like something you might hear on CNN today, that only proves that not much has changed in two thousand years. "Wars and rumors of wars" filled the newspapers thirty, forty, and a hundred years ago; "nation rose against nation" long before the World Wars of the twentieth century; and many a medieval or Roman peasant lived most of his life knowing that he might be called to battle any day. While we tend to think of the "end times" as encompassing only the last few years before Christ's return to earth, most of this passage could easily apply to the whole period of time from His earthly ministry to the present--not to mention to most of history before the Christian era, and presumably to however many years or centuries remain until Christ's actual return.

War is only the largest-scale manifestation of the violent tendencies in every person. Idealists frequently blame war on corrupt government, but power doesn't really corrupt so much as it fertilizes already-existing corrupt tendencies. For every Hitler there are a thousand people who might well do as much damage if placed at the head of a major nation. Whenever we harbor secret bigotries, blame others for our problems, or wish bad luck on anyone who seems to be standing between us and what we want, we are nurturing hatred within ourselves--a hatred that, if left unchecked, may well eventually manifest itself in physical violence or at least in open sympathy with those who commit it. (Remember the civil-rights era, when many an officer of the law beat an unarmed, peaceful demonstrator until blood flowed--and many a presumably respectable, law-abiding citizen stood by, cheering on the violence?)

Nearly everyone who participates in such violence believes that "once we get rid of these troublemakers, we'll have peace." But even if we manage to crush our "enemies" beyond recovery, we soon find that we still feel anything but peaceful. The natural tendency then is to start looking for someone new to blame, instead of doing what we should have done in the first place--admitting that the real problem is with us, our pride and selfishness and insistence on always having our way. It doesn't always manifest itself in violence against others. Many people who wouldn't have the heart to kick a stray dog commit serious violence against their own physical and emotional health, with their constant worrying that something will "go wrong" and their fretting and fuming when it does. These are usually the people who moan, "I just can't find peace of mind!"

The reason most of us can't find peace is that we're looking for it in physical circumstances. The Bible is clear on where real peace is found:

"...the fruit of the Spirit is... peace" (Gal. 5:22).

"[Christ] himself is our peace" (Eph. 2:14).

The world is ugly and violent,
With nations all fighting each other,
And we cry for peace
And for wars to cease
And a day where each man is our brother.

Our lives fill with "wars" of our making,
With quarrel and squabbling and brawl,
And for "peace" we plead--
Whining, "Lord, I need
For my way to be followed by all!"

Our souls churn with battle within us,
Against our own hate-feeding lust,
And we often fail,
When the fights assail,
To seek help from the One we can trust.

Yes, around and within is violence,
But our Lord is the Way of Peace:
When we turn to Him,
We find joys that brim
And pure blessings that never decrease!

No comments: