“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.” – Jer 6:14
Recently, while volunteering at a local university with Christian campus ministry, I was caught up in a long conversation, speaking until my voice was nearly gone, fading in and out like spasmodic radio reception. While the conversation swam through a broad spectrum of topics, one specific conversation piece had my attention for the few days following. It centered around the basic theme of peace. What is peace, and how is it had? Is the peace of Christianity the same peace as the peace of, say, Buddah? I’d like to share how I answered, and then fill in the lines with a little color.
First, two pieces of background information.
1. Benjamin Warfield contends that the Bible is the “Book of mankind,” since through it many peoples have become literate, opening the way for greater learning and scientific inquiry. This historical verity is accountable for much of the literacy throughout the whole world, including the English speaking peoples (Side note: Cable & Baugh have a wonderful treatment on the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons in their book “The History of the English Language”).
2. On the evening of April 4th, 2013, a lecture titled “Why I’m Not An Atheist” was presented by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale at Princeton University. The entirety of it can be seen here:
For my purposes, I’ve typed out this important question asked by an atheist in the crowd, and its answer:
“When you say that atheists have no basis for morals, it seems that you are ignoring the existence of mankind, in that we can look at the world and see that peace leads to prosperity and nations… we can look and see that, objectively, trust and safety in communities allow art and science and technology to prosper. You attack atheists like Hitler and the lonely rich, but it seems like a bit of a stretch to think that all atheists search for happiness in murder, power, and cutthroat business. So it seems like you are attacking the weak nihilist, who looks at the universe and sees that there is no ultimate moral authority and leaves it at that, but you are ignoring the strong nihilists, who look at the universe, see no moral authority, and say “this is an opportunity for us to use reason, to use our experiences, to create morals, to create the society that can further us, that can create the happiest society. So two questions – 1. Is it fair to ignore these strong nihilists, and 2. Isn’t it more noble to use our own reason and experiences to form morals than to put blind faith in an old out-dated text?
“The question is not whether an atheist can be a good person or not, the question is [if there is a] rationally reducible extension of reason to do that- except pragmatically that you want to live in peace, but that is assuming that peace is a good thing… There are people today in the world who want to eradicate it, and then the world will be a better place. What is the grounds for us reasoning with that kind of person? ‘Oh, yeah, we all need to get along.’ He says, ‘Yeah, well I get along better when you are not around.'”
Now, Ravi’s answer is a good jump off for understanding my discussion. The university student to whom I was talking had a similar question to the above Princeton student. I followed the same basic pattern of thought that Ravi did; however, they were not asking about nihilists or Muslims, but they were asking about Eastern philosophies. Shouldn’t that be more difficult? Sure, one might think, it is easy to defend an idea of peace against “radical” Muslims or a Hitler, but Buddah? Guy was probably just kicking back – comm’on!
Enter Warfield. Interestingly enough, the way the question was intially brought up was in the context of my contention that just as literacy spread throughout the earth because of Christianity, so real ideals of peace which now stay the nations are the resulting factor of Christian dogma. “But what about,” comes the response, “nations which had peace without Jesus? Like Buddah’s?”
This is roughly what I said: “Well, you might argue they both maintain or create peace, but then it must be asked, ‘What is peace?’ There are differing conceptions of what it means between Eastern and Christian philosophies. When I was in Thailand I saw the red light distrinct. Young girls were numbered off like cattle and sold for sexual pleasure, many by no volition of their own. I questioned a local woman who told me these girls ‘get what they deserve, for in a past life they must have done evil.’ Is this doctrine of karma a true peace? In the Eastern eye whatever is, is without disruption, ‘peace.’ But for the Christian peace is only understood in terms of being right with God. Prostitution is evil in His sight, so prostitution is at odds with peace, and this has ramifications for how man lives with man.”
After this came the assertion, “Okay, but I knew a man who lived in a small African village, and he was old and his wife had passed away. Clearly, it is evil for him to go around raping women to fulfill his sexual desires, but he told me that having a village prostitute helped to stop him and other men from that evil. What about that?”
I said, “Is the answer to evil more evil? If you replace evil with another evil, what do you have? Evil. But in Christ, evil has been conquered by good. And through Christ, man is enabled to live at peace with God.”
This was the end of that portion of our conversation, but as I continued to think on it I was struck by the nonchalance of my challenger’s acceptance of evil. Our undergirding socially constructed ideals about peace as a society and people are deeply influenced and produced by our sociological inheritance. If peace is not to be defined by God, then by what? Indeed, there is no such thing as peace without God. And this is not merely a sociological issue, though this was how we spoke about it, but a deeply personal issue. We know when we sin we are setting ourselves against God Almighty. We know that replacing sin with lesser sin is still sin, and that we are still at enmity with God so long as we are slaves to sin. We become like dogs who cower in their shame and back away from a wrathful master in fear. Perhaps we conviniently supress the knowledge that God is there so we can keep on sinning.
As long as we do so, we are enemies of peace.
“There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 48:22
Look how closely the commands of the LORD are attached to peace. Malachi 2:6 “True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.”
And in Jesus alone is true ultimate peace. Listen to these words:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” – Colossians 1
It may be hard to get our minds around it, but all peace (in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible), even for the Buddhist or Muslim, ultimately comes from Jesus. The curse that this world is under, with its resultant evil dissemated throughout our existence of time and space, can only be extinguished or conquered, by Jesus alone. What other sort of peace is there if not reconciliation with God? True peace with men only comes through peace with God, for everything we do and think anthropologically has theological ramifications, and vice versa toward sociological order.
May we, then, be people then who point to Jesus in order to say, “Shalom”, or “peace be with you.” Peace has no other genesis or referent.