This past Sunday the emphasis for Advent was on peace, yet everywhere I look I see the lack of peace. At midnight on Saturday the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ran out, even though according to former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix there are still some 27,000 nuclear weapons in our world (Why Nuclear Disarmament Matters, 7). In a speech last week President Obama announced his decision to send 30,000 more US troops to the war in Afghanistan—one front of a two-country, US-led war that has gone on for eight years and cost one trillion dollars plus 5,000 American and countless Iraqi and Afghani lives. Where can we find peace in a time of war?
We need to remind ourselves that Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). While it is unlikely to achieve constructive political ends by violent means, it is impossible to achieve godly peaceful ends through violence. I’m not a pacifist because I believe in the justice of self-defense, but I cringe at how willing Christians are to support state-sponsored violence. We who serve the Prince of Peace should lobby for more restraint, less bloodshed.
Early Christians before the time of Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, had a different outlook on the world than most Christians in the West today. As the Pax Romana of the first two centuries gave way to barbarian invasions, the terrorist threat of that day, Christians maintained their separation from the world and rejected violence. A recent opinion piece by Mercer University ethicist David Gushee reminds us of the differences between the way primitive Christians approached church-state relations and the way we do. He ends his thoughtful article by encouraging Christians during Advent to “pray for earthly peace and for the final peace of Christ’s return.” With that thought in mind I offer the following prayer, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.