War and Peace

If you were to look at the ecclesial plan you would see that Ian and I were due to organise a service for today on the subject of “Peace”. Jack and Hazel ran one earlier in the year on “Gentleness and Self-control” and we had hoped to do something similar and have hymns, readings and prayers on the topic of “Peace”. As we often do when we are planning anything like this we gather our ideas and thoughts so that we can put them together in a relevant way. But a service of this kind is not now possible. Our thoughts have been more influenced by reading about the war in former Yugoslavia.

Recently we have been proofreading a book on the work of Edinburgh Direct Aid which started in the early 1990s helping war victims in Bosnia. We were struck again by the horror of war as we read the different chapters on the start of the war, the convoys and the danger they were in. We read a particularly telling account of one of the refugees. She lived through terrible times, soldiers took over her village, her husband had to flee and was eventually captured and murdered. She had two children to care for, living in ruined houses and then escaping through woods at night with soldiers shooting the refugees or the transport they were in. She eventually got to safety and to this country, and we now know her quite well. Some of those doing the killing, raping, torturing were neighbours, the school teacher and former friends! When we read about what she suffered and others like her, I think we can understand those who want retribution and those who want revenge. The reasons for war are varied and complex but seeking revenge is often one of the reasons why conflict continues and continues. But that is not the Christlike way. We can see from this how vital an attribute being peace-loving is and yet we wonder what we can do to help.

War is not just something that happened in the 1990s. We know that throughout the centuries there have been many, many wars and we know that there are a number of wars going on at the moment. We ponder what we can do? Help the victims. Perhaps we can help the charities that work to give aid. It is a start.

But what about ourselves. I read this on one of the discussions on “Peace” on the internet.

No Jesus, no peace.
Know Jesus, know peace.

Jesus taught us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:44). I question whether I could do that but it is what many Christians over the centuries have done and it is Jesus’ way and the way of peace. The Apostle Paul in Philippi was flogged and imprisoned and put in chains, but he praised God, saved the jailor’s life and taught him and his family about Jesus. He experienced opposition but without retaliation. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”. So far I have not had to deal with war, violence and imprisonment, abuse of any kind. Anything I have had to deal with has been on a much smaller scale. There are times when we feel annoyed when we sense an injustice or people are rude or unkind. What do we do? Do we want to retaliate or do we turn the other cheek as Jesus tells us to? In Matthew 5 we are told that anyone who is angry will be subject to judgement. We know from Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger”. But it is not easy. We are told in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the peace-makers for they will be called children of God”. That is what we want to be, we want to be “children of God” and we think the only way to work towards this is with God’s help. Pray for patience to be able to cope with difficulties but not just pray for ourselves but for the victims of abuse and injustice and for a change of heart of the perpetrators. When the opportunity arises we can be a non-judgmental listening ear. This is “knowing Jesus”.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” What did Jesus mean by his peace? I don’t think that in this context it means stopping war or violence, or preventing people from being rude or unkind, but I think it means peace with God, peace because we are working with God and Jesus in the purpose they have for human beings. Jesus gives us the confidence to try to heal broken relationships, or do as much as we can to work towards that, giving us the courage to stand up for right, to support the oppressed and to see God’s activity in the world through people who try to be peace-loving.

So, Jesus’s peace means we try to be peace-makers. It is frequently not easy and we are in danger of failing. God is a loving God and understands our failures, either when we are angry or when we do not manage to make peace with others. We need to turn to him, ask for help and to try again. Jesus suffered violence and a cruel death but he said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. We pray to develop understanding and forgiveness like that. And if we do, it should help us to be peace-makers.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

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