Recently, I was invited to a Women’s Bible Study, a strong group of opinionated, politically engaged, passionate Christian women. They had invited me to join them for breakfast, having heard about my involvement in Israel and Palestine. They were very open and understanding to the stories I shared about my time there and the specific call I had felt placed to work towards a constructive outcome of peace and justice for all people who live under the destructive power of conflict in this tense area of the world.
It all sounded like something they could wrap their minds and hearts around, something worthy of a “good job” and a nod of support. But then the conversation shifted, you see I had only been talking about Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews. They wondered about the “fear” I felt from the Muslims and what it was like to actually live in a place that is predominately Muslim (Bethlehem). This lead to further commentary on President Obama’s suggestions to work together with Muslims inside and outside of our nation by actively seeking for more understanding of their particular culture and religion, aka, the basic fundamentals of peacemaking. The idea of such a recommendation was an apparent abomination to this particular group of women’s beliefs and a slap in the face to their principles and politics.
It left me wondering, when did seeking understanding and working towards efforts of community and diplomatic living ever become anti Christ? Or from another perspective, when did Christian’s decide to disintegrate peacemaking from our vocation as Jesus followers? We have a God who waged a decisive peace in the person of Jesus, which meant that people who before weren’t going to make it, are now going to make it.
In my time in Israel and Palestine, I wandered over to the Garden of Gethsemane where I reflected on the wage that Jesus paid that day in the very same garden. I thought about the depth and the width of God’s love, that he so desperately wanted to remove the stone of sin that kept a Father from fully loving His children, so he offered the only sacrifice that would suffice, the only righteous man who could pay the price, the only one who could stand in the gap for all sins of all men and call the world justified, Himself.
And why not? Often times in the Bible, when God talks about His love for us and how He came to redeem the whole world, He then ventures off into a declaration of Him as the Creator, the one who ordered the stars and the moon, the one who can measure the Heavens and the Earth, almost to say, ‘I created the world and all the people in it, so I get to choose who I love.’
Yet often times in the Christian voice, I hear a message of exclusivity, as if those outside of the faith are not worthy of our love, care or support, forgetting that we ourselves were once outsiders. If God took that attitude towards us, the Gentiles, the sinners, the people He once considered His enemies, we would have never been considered justified for His love.
And when the God who came to wage a decisive peace so that “the whole world” can be considered justified and worthy of His love, how do we, Christfollowers, turn that message around and say that some are justified and worthy and others aren’t? (John 3:16) I am so thankful God had mercy on the Apostle Paul who was once a passionate antiChristian extremist. I wonder what it would look like if Christians practiced that same Christlike message of peacemaking and forgiveness towards the extremist of our day? It may seem, well, extreme, and some may say downright ignorant, but considering a God who has reconciled mankind to their Creator since the beginning of time, it almost seems foolish to follow Him without the heart of reconciliation.
Why Peacemaking is Difficult in Christianity
So what binds us? What is it that keeps this mission that is central to the heart of God out of the mission and the vocation of believing Christians? I recently had a conversation with a friend, who has always had trouble supporting the idea of peace between the two conflicting nations of Palestine and Israel. As I listened to her complexity on this issue, I found that the word “Peace” was the source of the stumbling block.
Peace in Hebrew is directly translated as “Shalom,” which means, “As it should be.” It is God’s natural order. It doesn’t take long to look around the room at your office, or to turn on your television and see people across the world, or to simply scope the family living under your roof to find that God made every single person unique and different. God took Noah’s three sons, and “scattered them amongst the earth.” (Gen. 9:19) At the tower of Babel, God “confused [the people’s] languages” in response to humanity’s monocultural attempt to live in defiance to God. Paul himself experienced great diversity in the church of Syrian Antioch, where, for the first time Jewish and Gentile Christians worshipped God together. (Acts. 11:19) Needless to say, diversity is the natural order of creation.
So if diversity is in the natural order of things, then conflict must be in the natural order as well. Just like any two people married, you will find a couple embracing and working through conflict in order to create a level of peace. If conflict is in the natural order of God’s creation, then peace might look something like: learning to find ways of understanding, making efforts towards relating on a humantohuman level of compassion, and learning to live in the difference in order to find a mutually beneficial future considering both sides of the conflict. Sounds like marriage doesn’t it?
This past summer, in my second journey to the Holy Land, I joined a Peace and Reconciliation Organization called Musalaha, located in Jerusalem. I was asked by one of the staff members if I had ever been in a relationship that did not have conflict. As I thought about my answer, I realized that any relationship I had been in that had entered deeper than a surface level relation, inevitably led to conflict. So could conflict be relational? Is conflict inevitable?
If this is true, then I would assume conflict is neither good nor bad, but the way it is handled can have good or bad consequences. There is two sides of the fence in a worldly response to conflict, war and pacifism. However, Jesus always presented a third way, which is His way. The Jesus way. Watch how Jesus handled conflict, as He taught followers not deal with their conflict with anger, but with a heart of love, to not react to afflictions with revenge, but to share in God’s generosity, and how to look inside before looking at others. (Matthew 57) I encourage Christian believers to keep looking at Jesus’ Way and keep watching the one who handled conflict and lived out peace greater than any other human being.
We have a God who waged a decisive peace in the person of Jesus, which means those of us who weren’t going to make, are now going to make it. Peacemaking is central to the heart of the God and was lived out through Jesus. As Christ followers who have been saved by the ministry of Reconciliation and called to reflect the heart of God, letting Him make His appeal through us, then why don’t we start being peacemakers? Why don’t we stop looking at those we are in conflict with as our enemy, and start looking for ways of understanding, relating, and most of all, why don’t we see ourselves in them? Someone who was once in desperate need of a Savior, someone who was called worthy of love, even when we were unworthy.