Healing Line

Healing Line

Peace on Earth: Only a Dream?

by Francis MacNutt
Winter 2001

By the time you receive this, it will be nearly Christmas, that most special time when we remember how Jesus was born while the angels sang "Peace on earth," to welcome the Prince of Peace upon this war–torn earth. When we kneel before the Christmas crib, it seems that even the animals, the ox and the ass, are sharing in God's peaceable kingdom, and we remember the beautiful passage of Isaiah (11:6–9 passim):

Does this seem like mere poetry, an impossible dream?

"The wolf will live with the lamb,
The panther lie down with the kid...
With a little boy to lead them...
The infant will play over the den of the adder;
The baby will put his hand into the vipers lair.
No hurt, no harm will be done
On all my holy mountain."

As I write this, our whole nation is suffering in shock and grief in the aftermath of that tragic day, September 11, 2001. Instead of peace, there is talk of war and of retribution. By the time this goes to print, you will know what the leaders of our nation have decided to do in the face of the terrorist threat.

So what can we say at Christmas time when there may no longer be peace on earth and certainly not good will among all the human nations. And yet as Christians, we have something to say, since we know that Jesus came to break the unending cycle of violence and revenge that has plagued the human race from the beginning. We as Christians shall always struggle to bring peace to this world, even in the midst of warfare, and try to overcome darkness with light.

I think we all can see that even out of this extreme disaster God has brought some real good. Multitudes of people have come forward offering love and assistance to the survivors; many courageous rescuers have moved into the scene of death and destruction to try to help. Beyond that, our nation has been shocked into a realization that many of our goals are trivial — "trivial pursuits" — and so, in our grief, we shut down our usual amusements and pleasures for an entire week. It was like a massive Ash Wednesday, not just a ritual but truly realized in our hearts: "Remember that thou are dust and unto dust thou shalt return" (Ecc. 3:20). Not that amusements are not good, but we realized more deeply than ever that many of our nation's amusements are simply trash, or worse. A direct confrontation with death has had a sobering effect upon us.

Friends in New York tell us that the city that had the reputation of being cold and cynical has changed. They experience a warmth and togetherness such as they have never felt before. Pray God it will last.

But what more can we do?

We all realize that we need to pray for peace, and we know that for such a vast project as "peace on earth," many hearts need to be changed and many, many people need to pray.

Beyond that, what?

From our own experience in a healing ministry', we can add a few things. We know that our immediate response to tragedy is to mourn, to suffer and to cry. This comes naturally, and if we are human — above all, if we are Christian — when tragedy comes to someone else, we feel compassion; we weep with them.

We mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, seeing what destruction was in store for that great city and its people. Christians should be marked by compassion, Jesus' great characteristic: the word comes from the Latin "cum" ("with") and "passio" ("suffer") — someone who suffers with. Our national compassion has resulted in an outpouring of love — firefighters, rescuers, police, people lined up for blocks to give blood.

But the next natural reaction is for us to feel anger toward those who perpetrated the evil. The anger, again, is natural and a Godgiven emotion, meant to lead us to take courageous action against the evil's ever harming the innocent again.

But after anger can come rage, hatred and a desire to take revenge. This desire for revenge escalates into the everlasting circle of violence that we see everywhere in this world: the Balkans, N. Ireland, the Sudan and everywhere else where unredeemed human appetites rage. Some headlines on September 12 screamed, "Revenge!" Already 90 innocent people in this country have been attacked — and several killed — because they looked Middle Eastern. But taking revenge is not a Christian response.

God's Law, before Jesus came, tried to hold down our violence by commanding us to take "only one eye for an eye" — no more.
But Jesus changed all this (read Matthew 5:38–48): "You have learnt how it was said, 'You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

This is the incredible, difficult commandment of Jesus: forgive your enemies! Now comes the hard part: moving Jesus' command out of the realm of the abstract. And who is our enemy today? It's the terrorists; it's Bin Laden; it's the Taliban. Without God's grace, the help of Jesus, we can never do it. Human history shows it's impossible. At this time, the practical application of the Gospel is that we need to love the terrorists; we should pray for them. I have yet to hear it spoken from the pulpit. We can even pray for Bin Laden. It's safe to pray for peace; nobody is against that. But to pray for the terrorists? It even sounds unpatriotic, doesn't it?

The command of Jesus is too radical for us to hear. Our natural, patriotic response to September 11 is to make the Taliban suffer; if they killed 5,000 of our people, we should let them know we are strong by killing 10,000. Yet, the Christian "just–war" tradition has always been that we cannot directly kill the innocent, even for a good purpose. The end cannot Justify the means.

Certainly, we need to take some action to defend ourselves, but revenge cannot be our motive. Retribution may be a very human reaction, but the world will only be changed if millions of people start to follow Jesus' commandment to love our enemies. In our humanity we don't want to do it, when we actually see a crime before our very eyes and have the face of the perpetrator to go with that bloodshed. And it's our blood. We've been conditioned by Arnold Schwartzenegger and The Terminator.

But only in this way will we ever have world peace. We need not only the courage to act to defend ourselves, but also to root out hatred and revenge from our hearts. I must hate sin, as St. Augustine said, and love the sinner.

Somehow the spiraling circle of violence must be broken, and it must start with me. Can I pray that hearts be changed, beginning with mine?

Peace on earth must begin with peace, including a love for my enemies in my own heart.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Winter 2001 Issue