I have recently taught on shalom in both of my Bible studies. Last week I preached on it as the Gospel of John had Jesus say to His disciples, "Peace be with you." (three times) The typical definition of the word peace is an absence of war. As I tried to illustrate, absence of war is peace in its sickliest form. War is evil. At times wars are unavoidable but, even so, war is always evil. In war non-combatants are regularly victimized, intentionally and accidently. Called collateral damage, it is women and children, the aged and infirm, whose bodies litter the wreckage of a bombed out building. Collateral damage is an antiseptic way of saying we blew up the wrong people.
I am not saying soldiers are evil, nor am I saying the military is evil. My dad was retired navy. His dad and brothers were in the navy. My great uncle served under Patton. My family is pretty traditional and military service is highly respected. Having said that, I still know war is evil. Soldiers experience that evil first hand and are often scarred for life. There is a reason why we celebrate the end of a war so enthusiastically. War is evil. Peace is good. War does bad things to human beings. Unfortunately, we are in a sinful world.
Shalom/peace, the Biblical concept, is a time of fullness and abundance. It means that we are safe and sound, secure to live into rich relationships and produce great societies. In true peace people are in positive, life giving relationships (as opposed to biding their time to extract vengeance or create future conflict). Shalom peace is living in God's Kingdom (or at least a foretaste of the real thing) and in times of true peace people are creative, joyful and live in abundance. Shalom is healthy communities.
The church is called to reconcile people. As I wrote in my last blog, the disunity of the church is a huge barrier to proclaiming the Good News. Declaring that Jesus makes all things new and reconciles us to God and one another is a tough sell when believers act like competing distributers. It is worse when we engage in actual hostilities. But church wars, however unseemly are nothing compared to their secular counterparts. Which brings us to a terrible possibility brewing in the east.
The media frequently drum up worries about pending disasters. It sells. It is also based on some truth so it probably feels justified. I do not know how close Iran and Israel are to war. I know the stories indicated it was very close not to long ago. The latest headline, "North Korea threatens to obliterate Japan with nukes" may in fact be another case of hysteria. It may be that it is really nothing to worry about. But I know enough history to know that crazy people have sent the world into a mess before. Certainly, the Japanese have tasted nuclear problems in the recent tsunami and its aftermath. Japanese memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are also strong. To hear such a threat would seem to be sufficient cause to generate a response, or perhaps a reaction. It is the latter, more visceral and emotional, that could create an unravelling of monumental proportions.
There is next to nothing that I can do. Prayer, however, is something. It feels, at times, like praying is the last refuge of helpless people. "Those who can, do, those who cannot, pray." Prayers for peace seem to be futile. There is a reason for that. Prayers for peace which keep the peace cannot be seen. The absence of war or the beginning of peace and reconciliation are much more common on the planet than not. Most people do experience God's abundance and some sense of rich relationships and creativity and joy. So prayer is not silly nor a waste of time. And prayer for the absence of war is minimalist; true and lasting peace is what we need. So I have prayed, off and on all day, "Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!" It was a popular prayer among the first believers. It sums up what we need most: Jesus to reign. Reading stories about threats of nuclear annihilation inspire me to pray more intensely. Perhaps enough of us praying can tip the scales in the direction of peace and sanity. It is worth the effort.