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Preparing Peacemakers: the Bible's Big Picture by Ron Mock
I recommend the Bible to Friends who are called to be peacemakers, but it's hard to know where to start.
There are scores of passages helpful to peacemakers, with practical ideas that can be translated to many conflict situations, which I will mention later in this article. But the detailed passages are not at the heart of the Bible's value to peacemakers. The Bible gives us the most help when we start by looking at the big picture it draws.
Taken as a whole, the Bible paints a powerful picture of God's relationship to humans. That Big Picture view of the Bible cannot be seen by exploring a few (or even a few dozen) passagesit requires immersion in the Biblical story.
Some Friends may not see the Bible as worth this much trouble. Why give the Book spiritual authority, when one has the present leadings of the Spirit, so precisely tuned to our current situation? Problem texts further discourage these Friends, who wonder if the Spirit truly speaks through violent passages of the Old Testament, or difficult sections of Paul, etc. I won't answer these questions here. But I bemoan their costs, including some Friends' resultant neglect of Scripture.
Perhaps the biggest loss is the Big Picture. Those who have not steeped themselves in Scripture may not know instinctively the composite portrait it paints of God's character. Unfortunately, there are also many Biblical Christians (including Friends) who, having staked their lives on the Bible's spiritual authority, can't see major parts of the forest for the trees. Having focussed too much on some of the details, they miss the overall picture of God, especially when it comes to peacemaking. If peacemakers would draw on the Bible's big picture, here is how they would be strengthened.
Love for the Enemy The Bible is a love story. God loves us, makes us, suffers our lostness and pain, and goes to infinite lengths to be reconciled with us. Note both the motives and the methods: God gives up everything out of love for us and empathetic sorrow at our plight. God works to save us, not by exercising omnipotence against our will, but by sacrifice. God lives out the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)goes the extra mile, turns the other cheek, gives up coat and cloak (and life itself)to meet our needs and show us the depth of divine love. The disciples understood that Jesus was their savior and their model. As Jesus did, so were they to do. Jesus' life was another demonstration of the lengths to which God is prepared to go to be reconciled with us. Jesus' story tells us divine peacemaking begins with love for enemies (Luke 6:27-42). The peacemaker sacrifices whatever it takes to stand with enemies, sharing their risks and pains, going beyond the minimum to meet enemies' needs (John 1:1-14 and 3:16-17).
Balancing Justice and Forgiveness The Bible acknowledges frankly the horror of human evil. If it were a movie, the Bible would have to be rated R for violence and mature themes (even if the sex scenes were left out). God responds to this evil by enforcing justice. The Old Testament word for "peace" includes both nonviolence and just relationships. Atonement sacrifices (see Leviticus 1-7), the rocky relationship between Israel and God, the prophets' fierce rebuke to abuses of power (see, for example, Isaiah 58-59 and Amos 5)the big picture is unmistakable: reconciliation requires justice.
Everyone wants justice. Serbs seek justice (as they see it) in Bosnia and Kosovo. Some Israelis demolish Palestinian homes and move into the West Bank seeking justice. Some Palestinians throw bombs in just retaliation.
The Bible's big picture is clear, and eccentric. Forgiveness seems to trump justice, especially in the New Testament. We should turn the cheek rather than retaliate (Matthew 5). We should forgive 77 (or is it 490?) times, knowing that our own forgiveness for our sins depends on our willingness to forgive others (Matthew 18 and 6:14-15). We should not demonize enemies, nor distort their words and actions for polemical purposes. Instead, we should temper justice with empathy and mercy. When they nail us, even taking our lives, we should love them and pray for their forgivenessasking God to hold it against them no longer.
The New Testament is a hard book. It celebrates God's supreme sacrifice so we can get off the hook for the wrongs we commit! Justice is satisfied, according to the Bible, by Jesus' death. We must do justice, but our right to demand justice from others is limited. A Biblically-prepared peacemaker forgives, even when justice would seem to require holding grudges until eyes have been paid for with eyes.
Embodying Hope So a Biblically-prepared peacemaker goes to whatever lengths are necessary to reconcile enemies, acting with unconditional loving empathy to meet their needs. The Biblically-prepared peacemaker seeks justice to build peace based on right relationships, even if this disrupts prevailing systems. And the Biblically-prepared peacemaker forgivesholds others' wrongs against them no longeras often as necessary for healing and reconciliation.
This is a tall order. It threatens to overwhelm the peacemaker with impossible demands. It threatens to leave some people in the lurch, their needs unmet and the wrongs they've suffered unrighted Won't there be times when one cannot simultaneously forgive and still seek justice? The Bible teaches that God is not only loving, just, and forgiving, but also omnipotent. God can do anything. God doesn't choose to do everything possible, apparently to leave us scope for free will. But whatever God wants is possible.
Would a loving God want everyone to live in peacethat is, in right relationship, with access to means to meet needs, and without fear of violence? One steeped in the Biblical account, with due attention to details and the Big Picture, comes to know a God who loves like this, and who makes peace possible in any situation.
The Biblically-prepared peacemaker throws her entire being into doing the will of God. It is not in her power to end violence, it is too big for her. She knows that ultimately peace is not within her power. She works for peace keenly aware of her dependence on God to do the peacemaking. Perhaps stern walls will suddenly tumble, or mighty forces will evaporate in confusion, or new ideas will sweep like chariots of fire through a culture. Or perhaps peace will tarry, held back by people's wrong choices, forcing some peacemakers to die with words of loving forgiveness on their lips without seeing the promised land.
Through it all, Biblically-prepared peacemakers carry with them hope, not only from the present ministry of the Spirit, but also from their immersion in the Scriptural story of God's love, justice, forgiveness, and power.
Ron Mock is director of the Center for Peace Learning at George Fox University, affliated with the Northwest Yearly Meeting. He is a member of Newberg Friends Church.