Recently a young high school student wrote a letter to the editorial section of our local city paper. In her youthful idealism, she was profoundly disappointed that we, as a country (Canada), cannot come to an agreement on a new constitution and are in danger of breaking up. Her comment was most interesting. She didn’t, as do most, simplistically blame the politicians – “How can we keep this country together if we have incompetent politicians? What can we, good people, do when we are led by bad leaders?” She suggested something else: “I suspect that we will never agree on anything in this country – but what can you expect in a nation of pampered people!”
Her comment puts its finger on one of the major reasons why so much of our peace-making is ineffectual, despite our sincere intentions and efforts. We are too blind to the fact that the greed, the wars, and the violence that we see being played out on a world stage (and which we blame politicians and world leaders for) are, to a large extent, merely a magnification of what is happening inside of our own hearts and among us in our private relationships. When we watch the news at night, most of what we are seeing is a reflection of what is inside of ourselves.
Today almost all groups that work for peace, both liberal and conservative, do not take this seriously enough. There is an intrinsic, never-to-be-neglected connection between what seems radically private and what’s political and social. Thus there can be no peace on the big stage when there is greed, jealousy, unwillingness to forgive, and unwillingness to compromise within our private hearts. When the outer body gets sick, it nearly always signals a breakdown in the internal immune system. Hence given the state of our world today, one can be pretty sure that there is not much in the way of antibodies (charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, long-suffering, faith, mildness, gentleness, and chastity) within the body of humanity, namely, within our private lives.
When we cannot get along with each other within our own marriages and families, we should not be surprised that countries do not get along with each other. When we cannot move beyond past hurts in our own lives, we should not expect the issues causing violence in Northern Ireland, Israel, Bosnia, Iran, and Africa, can resolved simply by better politics. When we spend billions of dollars a year on cosmetics and clothing that serve to build up our appearance so as to be less vulnerable, we have no right to self-righteously demand that governments cut their budgets for defense. Finally, when nearly all of us have borrowed money so as to have, right now, the things we cannot yet afford but want, then we should have some understanding of why our countries have all overspent and are hopelessly in debt.
There are many aspects to waging peace. The social justice literature of the past decades has given us a crucial insight which should never again be lost, namely, that private virtue and private charity, alone, are not enough. There is sociology as well as psychology, systemic evil as well as private sin. In the face of unjust systems and corrupt governments, Christians cannot get away with simply practising private virtue and saying to their less fortunate neighbours: “I wish you well. (Stay warm and well-fed!) I’m a good and honest person, I did nothing to cause your suffering!” There are real social and political issues underlying war, poverty, oppression, and violence. Peace-making must address these.
But there are real private, personal ones as well. Hence, waging peace requires more than simply confronting the powers that be. What must, ultimately, be confronted is our own greed, our own hurt, our own jealousy, our own inability to forgive, compromise, and respect. More than we need to convert bad systems, we need to convert ourselves. We, in the Western world at least, are not a bunch of good, generous, forgiving people who have the misfortune of being governed by a small group of bad and selfish individuals who in no way reflect us.
There is a story told about a Lutheran pastor, a Norwegian, who was arrested by the Gestapo during the Second World War. When he was brought into the interrogation room, the Gestapo officer he placed his revolver on the table between them and said: “Father, this is just to let you know that we are serious!” The pastor, instinctually, pulled out his bible and laid it beside the revolver. The officer demanded: “Why did you do that?”
The pastor replied: “You laid out your weapon – and so did I!”
In waging peace we must keep in mind what our true weapons are and who the real enemy is.