In my last post I asked where to look for peace. This question was also a topic in the comments on an article about Syria I posted this week on my Facebook page. Writer Max Fisher of the Washington Post gives helpful background to the civil war and the factions that are in conflict there. He also acknowledges that there is no obvious solution to the war and no clear strategy that the United States might reliably pursue to create a successful intervention. Most of those who made comments on my page admitted to a basic pessimism about the whole situation, and one even declared that while peace is a lovely ideal, the thought that human activity will ever bring it about is “simply delusional.” Is he right?
Both the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures proclaim God as the source of peace. The letter to the Galatians lists peace as a “fruit of the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22) The prophet Isaiah said “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3) “Perfect peace” in this passage is actually a translation of “shalom shalom.” The doubled word is a biblical way of expressing that something is ultimate and cannot be surpassed. For example, the description of Jesus in Revelation 19:16 as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” indicates that there is no higher authority in heaven or earth. Shalom shalom is the “peace of peaces,” or (as a Southern preacher might say) “the peace to end all peaces.” Clearly one can make a biblically supported claim that our ultimate source and hope of peace comes from God.
But is that the whole story? The thing that troubles me about this assertion that nothing we do can bring about peace is that I think it lets us off the hook far too readily. If it’s truly hopeless, then where do we get the motivation even to try? Why not just give up, pack it in, and hunker down as we await the inevitable explosion of tensions into hate and violence? Perhaps my friend is quite correct about the hopelessness of human efforts to produce peace, but what I’m thinking of is a divine-human cooperation in which God works through human beings to make peace. Christian ethicist Glen Stassen, Executive Director of the Just Peacemaking Initiative, has made some worthwhile observations about pursuing a “constructive alternative” by working through international negotiations to get the chemical weapons stockpile in Syria destroyed or at least reduced. I think this kind of creative thinking will serve us well in efforts to act as God’s instruments of peace. Of course, we need always to pray for guidance before we act, and we ought to be praying for those in governmental authority who will need to make difficult decisions. Pope Francis has called all people of faith to a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria on Saturday, September 7th. Other Christian leaders have joined him in calling for prayer on Saturday, making this an ecumenical effort. Prayer and constructive thinking is our part of the work — being “steadfast of mind” (referenced in Isaiah 25:3) — so that God’s part — the creation and keeping of “shalom shalom” — has a chance to happen..