The images of Syrian children struggling to breathe were horrifying. Their young lives were threatened by an attack using Sarin gas dropped from warplanes. The local hospital was ill equipped to respond to the emergency. To make matters worse, it was bombed in the same attack. The Syrian civil war is entering its seventh year. The statistics are staggering; 465 thousand killed, over 1 million injured, and over 12 million displaced people and refugees.
Syria is not the only place of great violence and suffering. We can add to the list the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, South Sudan, Yemen, the Ukraine, and Afghanistan. In each of these locations there is no apparent peace plan apart from more violence.
Years ago, Walter Wink wrote about the myth of redemptive violence. Political and military leaders make promises based on superior forces and bombing. In some ways they are simply repeating the words of a Russian general (quoted by Niall Ferguson in The War of the World) that we will have to save the town by destroying it. The intractable conflicts of our current time should at least make us open to think about other ways of building peace.
Jesus paused when he entered Jerusalem. He expressed his lament with the following words: “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Having entered the city, he predicted that the Roman armies would one day overcome the city and destroy the temple. He could see the outcome of popular sentiment and religious propaganda.
Those of us who follow Jesus have the mission of describing and defining those things that make for peace. I have a short list based on values from the gospel teaching:
- Mercy and compassion for others.
- Commitment to truth and justice.
- Willingness to forgive and seek forgiveness.
- Service to the most vulnerable.
- Love of enemies.
- Concern for the common good.
- An awareness that God will judge our actions and our motives.
I find it disappointing that so few of these virtues are part of the discourse of our times. One reason may be that we as citizens still hold to the myth of redemptive violence. May God have mercy on our world! May our churches be places where the things that make for peace are part of our teaching and witness in a broken and wounded world.