The quest for peace is universal, whether it be peace in our land or peace in our soul.
As a nation, the U.S. is weary of terrorist threats, campus shootings, human trafficking, schoolyard bullying, workplace conflict, family fragmentation, political turmoil and heightened anxiety. We have a deep longing for peace.
Weary of disputes, the prophet Isaiah envisioned a future wherein war would be eradicated, and peace would prevail. “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
Since childhood, I have been singing and praying, “Let there be peace on earth.” But this prayer has not been fully answered – at least not yet.
To date, we cannot identify an era in human history when the world was completely devoid of conflict or warfare.
Early in the book of Genesis, the paradise called Eden is contaminated by sin, and then a couple of pages later, a fatal conflict erupts between Cain and Abel. The notion of war is born.
In the Old Testament, not only is there regional conflict between the Israelites and a variety of enemies, there is also internal conflict between Israel and Judah.
This civil war eventually led to the establishment, at least for a few years, of the southern kingdom and the northern kingdom, often referred to as the divided kingdom.
That’s what war does. It rouses suspicion, ramps us rhetoric, breeds hostility and divides people into adversarial camps like the North and the South.
Fast forward to 2017: According to various news agencies, there are at least 10 active wars and more than 30 armed conflicts ongoing in the world this year.
The most lethal war is the civil war currently being waged in Syria, an ancient biblical land, where it is reported that more than 500,000 have been killed.
But the promise of Scripture is that there will come a day when the lion will lay down beside the lamb. Just not yet. There is coming a day when the nations will transform their instruments of war into tools for agriculture. Just not yet.
Until then, we cannot recline in naÃ¯vetÃ©. In a world where systemic evil exists, when efforts at negotiation and arbitration have failed, military initiative is often an unfortunate but necessary option to destabilize tyrants, to rescue hostages and to thwart terrorism.
But even then, for civilized nations, the goal is to be protective, not vindictive.
In one of his most well-known sermons, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Especially in these days of escalated fear, let us pray for peace, let us work for peace, let us practice peacemaking, and let us keep singing Jill Jackson-Miller’s and Sy Miller’s song: “Let there be peace on earth / And let it begin with me. / Let there be peace on earth / The peace that was meant to be.”
As we approach Christmas, once again preparing to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, let us call on leaders in the highest places to cease provocation.
Let us proactively advocate for discernment, containment, disarmament, peaceful negotiations and the eventual end of all wars, until that day when ultimate peace prevails.
Barry Howard serves as a leadership coach with the Center for Healthy Churches and a pastoral counselor with the Faith and Hope Center. He is a member of the Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors and recently retired as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Barry’s Notes, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @BarrysNotes.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches.