Monday, October 26, 2015

To end all wars

I listened to a revisited Radiolab episode at the weekend 'Update: New Normal'. It began with the question - will we ever stop going to war? The observation offered was that a 20+ years ago we were optimistic, but now 80-90% don't think we'll ever stop. What do you think?

A century ago the first world war was thought of as 'the war to end all wars' but this has plainly not proved to be the case. Wars have increased not decreased. One nation or cause attacks others, and their allies dive in to pursue justice. Just wars are responses to unjust action. Honorable people fight on our behalf - lest we forget. I breathe a sigh of relief not to live in an age where I'm called on to fight, and give thanks for those who have fought for our freedom and for others.

Can we change? 
The Radiolab episode tells the story of a company of Baboons, granted a plentiful supply of food they appeared to become less violent. It's said that the reason there are so many wars in the middle east is the lack of water... and we note that there's enough food in the world to feed everyone. Lack of resources leads to wars.... wars lead to lack of resources... chicken and egg.

The Baboons appeared to change for many years but life in a violent world crashes back in and the old habits are restored.

Can religion or faith have anything to say to this?
Many would say religion is one of the major causes of wars along with the resources question. Differences in worldview certainly appear to lead to war - more than necessarily belief in any particular god. We war because we see the world differently, we see the world differently because we war...

The thought might be had that faith would offer a pathway to change. Might a new religious idea enable us to live differently?

In the Athenian Areopagus the philosophers listened day after day to the latest ideas, the Twitterati of their day, seeking world changing wisdom, looking for each days Trends. A Messianic-Jew called Paul turns up in the nearby marketplace one day espousing 'Jesus and the Resurrection' - and attracts their attention. Paul's message is that human beings have ignorantly failed to know God. Now he calls people to turn to him
[31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31 ESV)
Paul wasn't (probably) speaking about war and peace, but does speak in fairly expansive terms about life.

The Christian faith doesn't say - we can learn to live in peace - more that we can't. But, that God "has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness" - justice will be done. Wrongs will be put right. The Christian is pessimistic about the prospect of wars ending here and now, but persuaded that time will be called on all our fighting. Judgement day will come, not in Hollywood-apocalypse-style, but in the righting of all wrongs.

This will be "a great and magnificent day" (2:20).

The United Nations, the Hague, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions attempt to resolve conflicts but this will be by "a man whom he has appointed" (also 10:42). Who is this man to judge the world in righteousness? He is the crucified and risen one who has been appointed to the task by
[24] The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, [25] nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. [26] And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, [27] that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, [28] for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:24-28 ESV)
And as his offspring we ought not to be ignorant...
"we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. (Acts 17:29 ESV)"
This is a striking, even offensive, observation on humanity. We war but our greater problem is a warring against our maker. A twisted view of him which unravels everything else. He has fixed a day when this will be ended. And before that day invites us to turn to "a man" - this resurrected Jesus who laid his life down for those who fought against him, his image bearers and his world.

An end to wars is good but the good man is our greater need. He who alone can bring justice to the world.  Wouldn't deep justice be the end of me? Wouldn't I be convicted of my war crimes, for the violence of Dictators and Generals resides in my heart, misreading God I misread myself and my fellow human beings - overrating myself and underrating others and seeking advantage over others. I don't command armies against nations, but I command my heart against my neighbour, colleagues, family.

The Christian change in a warring world is a call to turn to the appointed man. In speaking of him, Paul is "preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:36).  A peace I yearn for and yet in some sense don't really want... and a peace I cannot accomplish. This announcement of peace says that wars will one day cease... but that we cannot really change, though we might taste something of the peace that is to come.

Can wars ends wars... history suggests not for countless reasons. Can plenty end wars... history suggests greed triumphs and injustice remains. Paul says: As Christ ends our unjust war on him (with all its collatoral damage) by giving himself to us... Christ is the end of war. "He himself is our peace." And so we might pursue peace.

Some scoffed at Paul. Some wanted to explore more. Some believed.

See also:

Image - Creative Commons - Walt Jabsco

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