I worked on a blog for a couple of hours last night, only to wake up this morning and find the entire document had vanished. I wasted a good deal of time trying to recover it, only to begin again. That is just as well, though, I usually like to sit on a blog for a day or two, making sure it resonates within me and I’m not just speaking for the sake of speaking. As I began tracking down all my sources from last night, and preparing to re-start, I knew my message was lacking something, and so I will begin again, and hope to convey what is in my heart, hopefully with even more clarity.
A friend of mine said something on Facebook yesterday about peacekeeping verses peacemaking and it dawned on me that I had never really thought about the difference. We all know that Romans 12:18 says “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” But what is peace? In the English language today, it is defined as the “absence of war or other hostilities.” However, if we look at the Biblical word for peace, which is shalom, we find that it means so much more than merely the absence of conflict. Along with our current idea of peace, shalom carries with it; wholeness, prosperity, health, safety, vitality, and being in right-relationship with God and the people around us. It refers to a state of well-being not only physically and relationally, but also inwardly.
Now that we’ve defined peace, by both our culture’s definition and the Biblical one, let’s look at the differences between keeping peace and making peace. To keep something, is to maintain possession of it. A peacekeeper is someone who does their best to maintain any sense of calm. I was definitely a peacekeeper growing up. As the second of four kids, I tried my best to avoid and avert conflict. I was quiet, non-competitive, and just wanted everyone to get along. As I grew up, I brought my peacekeeping “skills” into marriage and parenthood. Peacekeeping tends to lean toward containment, crisis management, and coexistence. And while I’ve gotten really good at coexisting over the years, it’s not what I want anymore. Peacekeepers will do anything to avoid confrontation, we shove our feelings deep down inside, and even apologize for things we didn’t do! Is that even peace? I don’t think so, it seems more like living in a state of denial or delusion. We avoid situations and topics we view as controversial and will even attempt to end conversations to avoid tension. Actual U.N. Peacekeepers will even go so far as to shut down an uprising with force, or by silencing an opposing group’s voice. Some of you are thinking, “I don’t know Kjersti, you definitely haven’t avoided ruffling feathers this last year,” and you are correct. I have only begun to understand that keeping a false pretense of peace, is not what I want, neither is it actually beneficial to either party, or the world.
Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” So, what does it mean to be peacemakers? To make something is: to create or cause to exist. I read an article by someone named Peace Afure, that defined a peacemaker as: someone who believes that peace must first be disrupted in order to allow for greater peace to enter; who takes the initiative to create spaces for brave conversations; and who is active about building an environment where peace is possible (thoughtcatalog.com). Peacemakers recognize that there is a difference between unity and coexistence. Peacemakers are committed to speaking the truth, in love, because they recognize that a false calm is not as valuable as actual peace and unity. Let’s take it a step further, what does it look like for believers to create shalom in the world around us? In the Old Testament, peace and righteousness go hand in hand, right along with justice. I already addressed this in a previous blog, so I won’t repeat myself, but in short, without righteousness there can be no justice, and without justice, there will be no peace. Does it stand to reason then, that if we are to create, or bring about peace, we should not ignore the pursuit of righteousness and justice? And, can any of that be done without truth? How in the world can we possibly bring about real peace, without also addressing these things in truth?
If we look at it on a practical level, if you were going to negotiate a peace treaty between two warring countries, would you sit at the table with them and shush them every time they spoke, for fear of tension? Or would you give space for each voice to be heard in order to make room for unity even in the midst of differing viewpoints, cultures, or ideologies? Again, from my previous blog, uniformity is not the same thing as unity, nor is it required for peace to exist. So then, why have so many Christians chosen the more passive route? Yes, it certainly creates a sense of calm, but is it real? Will it last? Does “staying out of it” accomplish anything? Are we fulfilling our call to be peacemakers by pretending everything is ok and not making waves? “Passivity is a characteristic of someone who holds back and lets others act. To be passive is to abstain from resistance and yield to external influences,” (gotquestions.org/bible-passivity). Would you say Jesus was more passive or active? I’m not saying we need to participate in every conversation thrown at us, or tackle every issue facing our world today. I know I would lose my mind and it would most definitely damage my calm. However, I think it is essential that we evaluate our own hearts and ask whether we are striving to maintain a sense of peace (a lack of conflict), or are we working towards creating shalom for all: safety, health, wholeness, prosperity, right relationship. Not to diminish the role that peacekeepers play, I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that they place a high value on peace, and without them, the world would be a more chaotic place. A life without conflict doesn’t sound horrible, but if it’s not true shalom, are we experiencing the fullness of life that God has for us and making it available to others? Sometimes that requires brave conversations and giving everyone a voice, balanced with speaking truth with love, gentleness, and boldness. There are many examples in the Bible, but my dad keeps bringing up Esther, so I read it last night. You all know the story, but the part that hit me was that she had it made… sitting pretty in her castle; safe, healthy, all her needs met. She could have stayed out of the political situation and hoped for God to intervene and do His thing, but she realized she had a role to play. She stuck her neck out, almost literally, and intervened on behalf of her people, God’s people, so that they too could continue to live in peace; alive, safe, and prosperous. Even after she succeeded in gaining the king’s favor and saving the lives of the Jewish people, she was given the opportunity to take it a step further and bring justice. Yikes! It was the kind of justice that I’m afraid would offend believers today. But the point I’m trying to make, is that yeah, we all want to live in peace and sometimes that seems easier to attain by staying out of the fray. But if we accept Jesus’ call to be peacemakers, isn’t our job to “create or bring into existence” peace, or shalom, for all? And, if our definitions hold true, that means that, “True peace includes personal wholeness, corporate righteousness, political justice, and prosperity for all creation.” (Rev. Mark D. Roberts)
“Peace is not just about the absence of conflict; it’s also about the presence of justice. Martin Luther King Jr. even distinguished between ‘the devil’s peace’ and God’s true peace. A counterfeit peace exists when people are pacified or distracted or so beat up and tired of fighting that all seems calm. But true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.” ― Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (emphasis added).