Thursday, May 3, 2012

Is Peace Realistic?

As I read the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, I came across these words Bonhoeffer spoke at an ecumenical gathering in Denmark in 1934. Aware of the threat Naziism posed to not only his own country but to Europe and the world, Bonhoeffer raised a cry for peace that ran strongly counter to the attitude then prevalent in Germany.

“'Let me hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace to his people, and to his faithful' (Ps. 85:8). Between the twin crags of nationalism and internationalism, ecumenical Christendom calls upon its Lord and asks for guidance. Nationalism and internationalism have to do with political necessities an possibilities. The ecumenical church movement, however, does not concern itself with these things, but with the commandments of God, and regardless of consequences it transmits these commandments to the world … Peace on earth is not a problem, but a commandment given at Christ's coming. There are two ways of reacting to this command from God: the unconditional, blind obedience of action, or the hypocritical question of the Serpent: 'Did God say …?' This question is the mortal enemy of obedience, and therefore the mortal enemy of all real peace … Has God not understood human nature well enough to know that wars must occur in this world, like laws of nature? Must God not have meant that we should talk about peace, to be sure, but that it is not to be literally translated into action? Must God not really have said that we should work for peace, of course, but also make ready tanks and poison gas for security? And then perhaps the most serious question: Did God say you should not protect your own people? Did God say you should leave your own a prey to the enemy?

No, God did not say all that. What God has said is that there shall be peace among all people – that we shall obey God without further question, that is what God means. Anyone who questions the commandment of God before obeying has already denied God.”

I don't know how to respond to this challenge. I recognize the call of Jesus to be peacemakers and strive to fulfill that in my relationships. But is it realistic to expect peace on a national and international scale? The voice Bonhoeffer describes as the question of the Serpent rings still in my ears. Don't we have a responsibility to protect ourselves, our families, our culture and our way of life? I think this question demands serious discussion and consideration in our modern world. Many people in the United States, including many who call themselves followers of Christ, will unquestioningly support maintaining, increasing and utilizing our military power in defense of our own interests. They call for stronger laws, higher walls and tougher enforcement to keep out the foreigners – forgetting that most of our ancestors were at one time foreigners here as well. We need to honestly and deeply examine these positions in light of the message of the Gospel. I understand the call to look out for our own and am sympathetic to it. It is the way of the world. But I keep wondering, does God call us to a different way, even when that path runs contrary to the world's logic? Is Bonhoeffer right in saying that by hedging on obeying God's call to be peacemakers, we are denying God?

What do you think?


  1. Having adopted Quakerism and "owning" more and more Quaker thought over the past decade, I can say that now, more than ever before, I side with Bonhoeffer on this. We are not called by God to protect our own interests or to be "pragmatic" about human nature and the requirements of bloodshed. We are to be people who practice peace and are peacemakers, even if it means laying down our own lives. For isn't that the example we have in Christ?

    I would encourage you to read the Walter Wink trilogy on "The Powers" (not the abbreviated tome, but the full scholarly work) to investigate the concept of "creative non-violence" as a viable Christian alternative to war.

  2. I shall have to track down a copy of that and explore this more fully.