What is peace, and how do we bring it to a warring world?
It seems to me that there are two basic approaches to answering these questions. The first approach revolves around absence and imposition. The second centers on presence and invitation. Let me explain what I mean by using a childhood experience as an illustration.
When I was in kindergarten, I liked to play with wooden building blocks. They were large (about one-foot cubed) and hollow. I enjoyed making an igloo-like fort out of them during recess. Unfortunately, the schoolyard bully liked to push them over on me. When he did so, I cried because the falling blocks hurt me. (This was the early 1970s, before schools began “child proofing” their toys and playground equipment.) Obviously, a state of conflict existed between the bully and me. What would a playground peace between him and me have looked like, and how could such a state of affairs have been brought about?
One way would have been to fight him, or to ask the teacher to restrain him. Peace would have been imposed on us either way, and although we wouldn’t have liked each other very much as a result, conflict would have been notably absent from our relationship. This is the first approach I mentioned above, the one revolving around absence and imposition.
A second way would have been to ask him to become my friend. Such an invitation would bring about peace between us, defined not as the absence of conflict but as the presence of harmony and like-mindedness. This is the second approach I mentioned above, centered on presence and invitation.
Now, both approaches are good, but the second approach is best. Sometimes, a superior force needs to impose absence-of-conflict peace on conflicted parties. We employ “peace officers” (police) in order to protect us at home and soldiers to protect us abroad, for example. Indeed, according to the Bible, that is one of the major purposes for the existence of government. As Paul put it, the state “does not bear the sword for nothing” (Rom. 13.4).
But absence-of-conflict peace is merely a temporary ceasefire. It reduces the external manifestations of the conflict, but does not change the internal motivation for the conflict. A lasting, presence-of-harmony peace requires heart-change. And that, it turns out, is what Jesus came to do.
Ephesians 2.11–22 speaks about the conflict that separated Jews and Gentiles in the first century, a conflict sparked by religious and legal differences between the two groups. According to Paul, Christ brings peace between the two groups. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
The peace Christ brings about is not merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of harmony. He removes the source of hostility between them, inviting both into a new relationship with him and with one another. They are at peace with one another, in other words, because they no longer have reason to be at war with one another.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they will be called sons of God” (Matt. 5.9). Christ himself is this blessed peacemaker, the Son of God. And we are his brothers and sisters if we strive to do the same.