Sande, Ken. Is This a Time for Peacemaking or a Time for War?
This question is especially challenging for those who follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. He commanded that we love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. He also said, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
These are hard teachings in the aftermath of an attack that has killed thousands of people. Our President and many others have declared this to be a war, and warned us that more people will die before it is over. So, is this a time for peacemaking or a time for war? The answer may be both.
But how can both paths be right, especially when they seem to go in opposite directions? Both can be right, because God himself has assigned different paths to different people.
The Bible teaches that God has delegated some of his authority to civil governments and assigned them the responsibility of promoting justice, protecting their people from aggressors, and punishing those who do wrong (see Isa. 1:17; Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). This is a heavy responsibility, especially when it involves the exercise of lethal force -- but without this restraint, evil would run rampant. Thus there aretimes when those who lead and protect a nation can legitimately walk the path of war. When doing so, they should have our earnest prayers.
But even as we support our civil and military leaders in their God-given duties, we are called by God to walk a different path as individuals. Just a few verses before God describes the government's right to wield the sword in Romans 13, he describes the individual Christian's responsibility to be a peacemaker:
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.... Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:14-15, 17-21).
This passage echoes Jesus' earlier teaching on how individuals should respond to those who wrong them:
"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.... Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:27-28, 35-36).
Most Christians think that these are fine and noble concepts ... until someone actually hates us, curses us, and mistreats us. Then these words seem naive and simplistic. But it is precisely at times when much wrong has been done that these words take on their greatest power and offer their greatest benefit. Here are some practical ways that you can put these commands into practice in this time of terrible conflict.
- Mourn with those who mourn. All of us should grieve deeply with those who have lost loved ones, have been personally harmed by these attacks, or are distraught over the trouble we are facing. In doing so, we Christians should share not only our tears and words of comfort, but also our time, energy, and material resources to minister to them and help rebuild theirlives.
- Pray for our leaders. Our President and a multitude of other civil and military leaders will be making difficult decisions in the days ahead, many of which will either save or end lives. They carry an agonizing burden. Therefore, we should pray for our leaders every day, asking God to give them humility, wisdom, discernment, courage, and strength, so that they will accomplish justice, protect the innocent, and restore peace as quickly as possible.
- Remember God's Mercy to you. All true peacemaking springs from what Jesus Christ did on the cross to reconcile a fallen world to a holy God (Rom. 5:1). We cannot truly love our enemy or do good to those who hate us until we see that God has done exactly that with us. When we recognize our own sin, acknowledge the eternal judgment we deserve, and stand amazed at his offer of mercy and forgiveness, then and only then can we respond lovingly to acts of violence and do thehard, unnatural work of peacemaking.
- Fight against anger and vengeance. In the face of such horrific acts of evil, it is natural for us to be filled with anger and a desire for vengeance. If we fail to repent of these feelings, they will eat away at our souls. As the psalmist realized, "When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you" (Ps. 73:21-22). To counter these feelings, whether in yourself or those around you, read the rest of Psalm 73, which reminds us that God will eventually avenge all wrongs,and remember Jesus' promise that his final judgment is more severe than anything a worldly army can impose (see Luke 12:5). A further antidote to these feelings is to obey Philippians 4:8 by thinking and talking about the many noble, admirable, and praiseworthy actions that have occurred at the disaster sites and around the world as God's grace has been poured out through the loving and sacrificial acts of countlesspeople.
- Pray for those who have done wrong. Praying for an enemy is not
easy. Even when we get past our feelings of hatred and our desire for
revenge, we struggle to know what to pray. Should we follow David's
example and pray for justice to come upon them (Ps. 28:4), or should we
follow Jesus' example and ask God to forgive them (Luke 23:34)? As we
remember our own need for God's mercy, I believe we must do both. We
"At the very least, Lord, display your love for justice and prevent further acts like this by bringing the people involved in these acts to account in this life for what they have done. At the same time, Father, display your love for mercy and magnify the glory of the gospel by bringing these men to repentance and faith in Christ, so that whatever temporal judgment they face at the hands of men, they might experience the eternal forgiveness that you purchased for us by the infinitely precious blood of Christ."
- Stand up for the persecuted. Some of the pent-up anger in our country is already being vented toward innocent people of Middle-Eastern descent. Christians should be the first ones to stand up for the oppressed (Ex. 22:21; Isa. 1:17). In addition to preventing individual acts of hatred that would echo the violence of September 11, your loving intervention could open the door to share the gospel with people whose faith has been shaken and whose hearts have been opened.
- Make peace with those around you. Although you and I do not murder others with a gun or an airplane, all too often we kill others in our hearts. As Jesus warned, "You have heard it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.... Again, anyone who says, 'You fool,' will be in danger of the fire of hell" (Matt. 5:21-22). The dreadful acts of September 11 could produce a harvest of peace and reconciliation if each of us were now inspired to fight the cancer of sin and estrangement on a personal level, seekinggenuine reconciliation with a spouse, child, parent, friend, co-worker, or anyone else we may have offended. (For practical guidance on how to resolve personal conflicts, visit our web site at www.HisPeace.org.)
- Study and teach peacemaking. Never in our lifetime have so many people been asking questions about how to deal with conflict. The time is ripe to wrestle with practical issues of confession, confrontation, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Please do not let this incredible "teachable moment" pass you by. Dig into God's Word and see what he has to say about these life-changing matters, and then teach others what you are learning about peacemaking. Engage your children, talk with your friends, start conversations at work,lead a Sunday school class at church. Now is the time to learn and to teach!
- Share the gospel of peace. Above all else, seize every opportunity
to be an ambassador of reconciliation by pointing people to the Prince
of Peace. Death is suddenly very real to everyone in the world, and
questions about evil and judgment abound. People who would have brushed
the gospel aside not long ago are suddenly open and marvelously
interested in talking about eternal matters. The fields are truly
"white untoharvest," and there can be no greater peacemaking than to
help others to be reconciled to their God.
A great evil has come upon us and done unimaginable harm. By God's grace, however, we need not be overcome by this evil. Rather we can overcome evil with good. Now is the time to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ as we never have before. Even as our national leaders carry out their heavy responsibilities, let's seize every opportunity to share the love of Christ and
promote personal peace and reconciliation. In doing so, we can redeem these dreadful times and fulfill one of the most wonderful promises ever given, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God."
Ken Sande is the President of Peacemaker Ministries, an international ministry committed to equipping and assisting Christians to respond to conflict biblically.