For or against, war calls us to take sides, which leaves the pacifist in a difficult position. While there are causes for which I would give my life, there are none worth killing people over.
As a peace-worker, I would put my body on the line to ensure that the war machine didn’t run anyone else over. No more bombs raining down. No more disconnected bodies strewn about.
But I know that I would just be another casualty. Wars are never won—because they never end.
I am convinced, as was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said, “There can be no more wars of faith. The only way to overcome our enemy is by loving him.”
This is not a matter of cowardice or the avoidance of conflict. “Men have been pacifists for every reason under the sun except to avoid danger and fighting,” William Faulkner wrote in The Unvanquished: The Corrected Text.
It is natural for human beings to have arguments, but the decision to resort to bloodshed, I have always found chilling. Murder made an all-knowing God question Cain, “What have you done” (Genesis 4:10)?
Because it calls everything into question—especially our memory. “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other,” Mother Teresa warned.
I am convinced that peace is the way. Violence is unjust and only creates more injustices.
Year after year, there are thousands of innocent civilian casualties of war. But their deaths will never be enough for the bloodthirsty. Besides, “every war has two losers,” William Stafford explained.
In times like these, we need the poets— not the politicians. Because I need clarity in these long-standing feuds over faith and land.
How I wish that no one would suffer and that we would work towards healing what sharply divides us. I think we need to talk about it. “War is what happens when language fails,” Margaret Atwood told us.
But there are those who vehemently disagree. They will shout me down, push me out of the room or worse. “The quietly pacifist peaceful always die to make room for men who shout,” Alice Walker concluded.
But with hands covering my mouth or while looking up from the ground, I would still say that suffering is not good for us. I have no interest in conversations about its redemptive qualities.
Jesus told Peter to put his sword away, and his followers should do the same (Matthew 26:52). Likewise, the preacher in Ecclesiastes is right; suffering is done in vain (2:23).
“No one denies that immense good has been achieved in the world by suffering saints, but it was not the suffering that made them saints,” Leslie Weatherhead wrote in Salute to a Sufferer. “It was their reaction to suffering. … God does not need any kind of evil—and suffering is evil— to accomplish (God’s) good.”
We don’t need to suffer to prove anything. Suffering is neither an indication of wrongdoing nor confirmation that we are on the right side of history. Suffering is just pain, agony and misery.
Again, the preacher in Ecclesiastes teaches us that those who do evil don’t get what’s coming to them. Instead, “There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked and wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity” (8:14, NRSV).
It is a sickening swapping of causes and effects. It doesn’t balance out and, worse still, it doesn’t make sense.
It is proof that suffering is possible for those who have faith. Frankly, even if you could go out and get more of it, it wouldn’t change anything.
Faith doesn’t prevent suffering. Ask Job.
“We are ill-equipped for the darkness outside our small circle of certainty,” Margaret Anne Huffman wrote in Through the Valley: Prayers for Violent Times. “We confess, too, that we have worn our faith like a rabbit’s foot on a keychain: If we kept it with us, nothing bad could befall us. Wrong, Lord, wrong, for darkness tarnishes lucky charms and saps imitation strength.”
Parenthetically speaking, I don’t know what some of us think faith is. But it is not easy to come by—especially after you have suffered. Therefore, I wish that no one would.
Because faith, the ability to believe in the unseen in the world and in the people we bear witness to, is lost in all of it. No war is worth that level of destruction.