In a previous post, I was trying to make the point that if we get a broader view of the cross, it serves as a very helpful undergirding for living a life of peacemaking. I want to add to that, starting with this: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)
One perspective on this verse is to see the separation of human beings from God as punishment for our evil doing. Christ’s death paid the penalty for us, making reconciliation possible. There is truth in that perspective; but my hope is to broaden beyond that. If that’s all there is, the only reason for the cross is for God to do something we cannot do. His death is not something we emulate, but simply something we appropriate. (All right, I could say that more simply, but I like the rhyming and rhythm.) Jesus DID do something we could not; but, as I said before, what do we do with his words to us to take up our own crosses?
In the last post, I said “Jesus’ life and death and resurrection were God’s response to the great evil in the world. I think this is essential. It wasn’t just his answer to provide a way to heaven because evil could not be overcome. Forgiveness wasn’t the only purpose for the cross.” Let me try to express this further. When God looked at our world and saw hell on earth, when God saw evil everywhere, Jesus was the compassionate and powerful response. Colossians 1: 19-20 was God’s answer. Jesus became human (joining in solidarity with us), lived life as it ought to be lived (modeling righteousness and holiness), and then died (providing forgiveness, yes, but also somehow breaking the power of evil in our world).
So, it’s my opinion that we can’t read the verses above this way: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile me to himself.” That short circuits the entirety of God’s purpose, and it lets us cheat by thinking the cross is only for Jesus. No. God’s purpose is to reconcile to himself all things, earth and heaven, the entire broken and fallen cosmos! When God’s fullness takes on human flesh, God conquers evil by sacrificing and dying. Peace comes NOT through the exerting of heavenly power, but through surrender and loss and sacrifice.
Is there a time to stand up against injustice? Yes. But when and how we stand up against injustice are very serious questions, questions which must be tackled ethically, theologically, and prayerfully.
Human nature and human history prove that our when comes much more quickly than God’s. We see injustice in others so much more quickly than in ourselves. We must honestly and seriously take into account that human governments are in the business of convincing us of our own just cause and our enemies’ injustice and inhumanity. (This is not a statement against our American government, but the reality of every nation and grouping of people on earth.) Our minds immediately go to the most difficult examples, and as I said before, for us that means Hitler. But notice that since we as a nation “united against evil” in the 1940’s, how quickly we see other lesser examples as ones that need intervention (Vietnam and Nicaragua and Saddam and…) Saying that there is a time to stand up against injustice is not the same as saying those times come often.
And what about how we stand up to injustice? This begins to get into what will be my next post, when I find time. Pacifism and peacemaking for me do not mean to sit silently and let hell break out on earth. It means following God’s example in Jesus Christ. I must incarnate myself as Jesus did; join in solidarity with those who are my enemies. I must find their humanity. I must follow Christ’s example in life. He spoke truth to power. He boldly spoke against corruption. He lived so provocatively that it made the authorities (Jewish and Roman) execute him. I suppose I should say that because my peacemaking has been born out of Jesus and biblical teaching, I am not opposed to force altogether. It’s killing, or force that has the intent or legitimate probability of killing, that I personally find incompatible with the teaching of Jesus. How we stand against injustice requires us, in my view, to find alternatives to lethal force.
International situations are so complex, but the reality is, so are interpersonal situations. Am I living in such a way that leads to living at peace with other people? Do I forgive? Do I admit wrongdoing and ask forgiveness? Do I combat my greed and materialism that cause me to envy some and use others to get what I want? Do I care enough about injustice to walk alongside the person who is oppressed? All of that and more is the how of peacemaking.
There’s never enough time for these posts. I’ll keep working at this. Frankly, it’s made harder because we live in a country where at least theoretically we have some say in our government. The people in New Testament times had no way of possibly imagining affecting government. Their only consideration was how to live personally in obedience to Jesus, and for the first 300 years of its existence the church was uniformly pacifistic. It’s easier to do that when it’s only my personal response, and I don’t have to wrestle with injustice on a global/national level. But I’ll keep wrestling with that, too.
Just for my own accountability, the next post will look at what peace really is, reflecting on Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace. If peace is more than the cessation of hostilities, than it is legitimate to ask whether war can ever really accomplish peace. But that’s for another post!