The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. (Isaiah 32.17)
Yesterday our church gloried in the promise of peace. Our guest preacher, Rev. Dr. Edward Campbell—a highly regarded Bible translator and seminarian whose title belies his salt-of-the-earth pragmatism—said something that stuck with me. As we read Scripture, he said, we should remember it’s the story of people figuring out how the world is supposed to work. Thus, the tension that binds together 66 books written across centuries is manifest in a contest of wills: human will and its wantonness versus God’s will and all that God desires for, and from, us. Consequently, we’ve invented an alternate reality to accommodate weaknesses that, as Scripture persistently reminds us, bear no reflection of God’s vision. Nowhere is this discrepancy more magnified than in human proclivity to make war. The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is rife with war zeal. Repeatedly, we watch Israel engage in military conflicts that lay ruin to its country and other nations. The extreme losses are plain to see. And while it’s true that God sometimes—though not always—intervenes on Israel’s behalf, no stretch of scriptural interpretation can be made to translate God’s role in human combat as a divine sanction of war. When God steps into military conflicts, miracles occur that restore peace. Peaceful cohabitation is how the world is supposed to work. It is God’s will. Why can’t we figure that out?
I submit we have figured it out. What we’ve not yet resolved are the international, cross-cultural, and political conflicts that cause war. Proverbs 14.31-34 diagnoses our failure when it says: “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor God. The wicked are overthrown by their evildoing, but the righteous find a refuge in their integrity. Wisdom is at home in the mind of one who has understanding, but it is not known in the heart of fools. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Emphasis added.) When we set our hearts to prove our superiority over other nations—when we advance policies and actions that promote poverty, violence, and suffering, whether abroad or at home—we forsake God’s call to righteousness. We will not live in peace. As we’ve recently experienced in a recession largely brought on by reckless war-making, the costs of militaristic bravado are enormous. Conflicts wrought of aggression inevitably exact a huge toll on the aggressors. And the prices aren’t just paid out of pocket: they’re deducted in human lives, bodies, minds, and emotions. War is not God’s will. Why can’t we figure that out?
Isaiah 32.17 says, “The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” We are not so naïve to expect global righteousness and its peaceful effects will prevail in our present world. Yet, as Christians, we must also ponder how we can expend our resources to promote righteousness. That we need adequate defenses against malevolent powers is a given. The question is whether we permit our leaders to pursue unrighteous policies of aggression—to foster nationalistic, military bravado that is quick to pull triggers and create undue poverty, suffering, and loss of life. We must be zealous for peace at all costs, as the price of warfare is more than we can bear. We are regularly confronted with the harrowing realities of warfare, yet we cling to the myth that war can ever be just. Military aggression is the way of the world. But it’s not how God intended it to be. It’s time we figured that out.