Among Those with Whom God is Pleased, That Is.
And on Earth, Peace_Barnabas-Among Those with Whom God is Pleased, That Is.
“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good.”
—Jimmy Carter’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
How very sectarian is the God of the Bible, to be pleased with some people and not with others! But we could also say, “How very ethical is the God of the Bible,” or “How very realistic is the God of the Bible.” The more accurate translation of the angel’s words to the shepherds stands on its head the familiar line of the King James Version, “Good will toward men.” Instead, the line is a prediction of peace among those who please God. While Christians and others quarrel over who pleases God, it is certain that those who do Wrong—however that is defined--do not please him.
Now that war is threatened on every newscast and front page, we are going to be getting and sending a lot of Christmas cards with the “Peace on Earth” theme. Their message is not deep. What I get from it is something like this:
Peace on earth, but leave us to the enjoyment of our wealth.
Peace on earth, but leave our prejudices intact.
We are content with our wealth, so why shouldn’t other people be content with their wretchedness?
The former President nailed the answer to the question in his Nobel speech: “. . .the most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on earth. The results of this disparity are root causes of most of the world's unresolved problems, including starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation, violent conflict and unnecessary illnesses that range from Guinea worm to HIV/Aids.”
Peace comes at a very high price, but except for a couple of shining moments in the history of Christendom, we have been more willing to pay the price in blood than in generosity or diplomacy. Yet in Christian terms, the blood price has already been paid: according to St. Paul, Christ has torn down the dividing wall between the peoples of the world and made peace “by the blood of his cross.” To Christians, this is a central affirmation of faith. But even to unbelievers, these words may show that peace is a costly achievement, not a natural condition of humankind. It is always won by sacrifice.
Nothing in the sacred literature of the West (the Koran is from the East) requires blood sacrifice as the first strategy in making peace; Christ has made that offering once for all. Yet, both before and after Christ, in east and west, in every major religious grouping and none, civilization has routinely assumed that blood sacrifice, or the threat of it, is the only course available. President Carter’s “necessary evil” has been routine.
It is not more routine now than it ever was, except that our killing has become much more efficient. We continue in this hellish mode, even though it cannot be historically documented that war addresses Carter’s root causes by feeding people, enriching the environment, expanding literacy, reducing hostility, and curing illness. We honor the sacrifices of those who have fallen or been grievously harmed in battle, but we are not required thereby to honor the policies that led to battle.
I am not suggesting that we can end all war by sacrificial generosity. We may be at war soon, perhaps a “necessary evil.” That is not my call to make. But Christians at least are required to required to recognize that the world doesn’t need any unnecessary evil. That is why it is unnecessary!