The Lie of Peace

Edited by Drew Friesen

Photo Courtesy of Tong Nguyen van

By Phillip Hanson

Published September 1st 2020

            Peace requires justice. This is the simple assertion I will be exploring in this essay. On its face, it may seem to be a fairly straightforward claim. However, as I will argue, this understanding of justice has been implicitly rejected by many Evangelicals. We have overlooked the demands of justice in our search for peace, and succeeded in finding neither peace nor justice. In this essay, I hope to articulate this problem of peace and justice in Evangelicalism and put forth what I believe to be a faithful way to understand true peace and justice in a world full of injustice, while positing a God who is both committed to delivering justice and forging peace. 
            As the family of God, we are appointed to be agents of peace. We seek to bring peace to the people and places in our lives. Thus, understanding peace is essential to our kingdom vocation in this world. If we don’t get peace right, we will be spreading something that is not aligned with God or His kingdom. This is exactly why peace needs to be paired with justice. Justice offers a corrective to peace, without which peace would not only be impossible, but also destructive. What we need to understand is that, biblically, peace is more than the cessation of hostilities. It is relational harmony and reconciliation, which can only come through justice.
            Firstly, let’s understand how Christians get peace wrong. A helpful voice in this conversation will be that of J.R.R Tolkien. Let’s look at a brief story from the fictional world of Middle Earth. 


Peace at No Cost

            The evil sorcerer Saruman has ravaged the land of Rohan. He has laid waste to its towns and villages. He has set fire to the houses and crops of the people living there. He spared not women nor children. After pillaging, destroying, and decimating the innocent, weak, and helpless with reckless abandon, Saruman’s army sought to meet the forces of Rohan and deal them one last and decisive blow. But good triumphed that day. Yet what would good do about all that was lost? We pick up the story now as the king and heroes of Rohan meet Saruman after the costly victory. Saruman says:

“But my Lord of Rohan, am I to be called a murderer, because valiant men have died in battle? If you go to war, needlessly, for I did not desire it, then men will be slain...I say, Theoden King: shall we have peace and friendship, you and I? It is ours to command….”[1] “We will have peace, when you and all your works have perished - and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us...Even if your war on me was just - as it was not...even so, what will you say of your torches in the Westfeld and the children that lie dead there? When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace.”[2] 

            The peace that Sauruman espouses is a peace that comes at no cost. It doesn't matter the lives of those lying dead, the innocence of those taken by sword and flame. It is of no consequence the blood that runs through the houses, fields, and villages of those meaninglessly slain. The lie of peace, beautifully pictured in this story, is the lie that the only thing required for peace is simply saying that it is so. “It is ours to command,” he says. The lie of peace is the lie that it comes at no cost. All we must do is say that there is peace and move on. Peace simply becomes a word that means nothing. Children can lie dead and homes destroyed, but if we say the word peace over it, suddenly there it is. The lie is that peace is simply the cessation of hostilities, rather than the repayment of wrongs in favor of a just outcome. Peace is a lie if it comes unaccompanied by justice. It becomes a tool of the Enemy used to steal, kill and destroy. He wants our peace to mean nothing. He wants to rob peace of its power and effectiveness. The lie he gives is peace without cost: peace without justice. 
            Do not be deceived. This is not peace. Peace is more costly than this. It means more. For peace to be more than an insult to the abused and a force of restoration in the world, there must be justice. Not until all the demands of justice are satisfied, until every wrong done to the innocent is made right will there be peace. 

 

Costly Peace

            Something must be done in order for peace to return. Peace cannot exist with injustice, and injustice cannot be removed without justice. The question then becomes, how is injustice dealt with: how are wrongs made right? By faithfulness through justice. Faithfulness is key here, but we must know to whom or to what we are being faithful. To bring true peace to a world of injustice, we must start by being faithful in three areas. We must be faithful to the wounds of the wounded, we must be faithful to the demands of justice, and we must be faithful to God. Let’s look at the first area. 


Faithfulness to the Wounds of the Wounded
            As an introduction, let me start with a quote from Scripture. This quote is from Jeremiah 6. God is speaking through Jeremiah in judgment of  His people. He accuses them saying, “They dress the wound of My people as if it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (Jer.6:14).[3] Being faithful to the wounded means treating their wounds seriously, not as something to be overlooked with a flippant declaration of “peace, peace.” The way we treat them seriously is by recognizing when there is no peace. Being faithful to the wounded means not saying “peace” when there is no peace. This is violence and it treats the wounds of the wronged “as if they were not serious.” Though we all want there to be peace, some for naive reasons and others for selfish ones,[4] being faithful to the wronged means affirming that they in fact have been wronged, and thus acknowledging there is no longer peace. I would take it one step further, however, and say that being faithful to the oppressed in this way is more than simply not saying “peace” when there is no peace. It is also saying “no peace” when there is no peace.” Call out the absence of peace in word. Don’t act as if there is peace when there isn't. This is not only dishonest, it dismisses the wounding of the oppressed. When we are convinced there is peace when in fact there is not, we don’t address the wounding of the oppressed meaningfully. How could we? If we can only see peace, then anything that reveals to us that there is not peace we dismiss. This is why we need to actively declare in word the absence of peace. 
            Speaking out against injustice is the first step to bringing true peace. The next step is adding deeds. This brings us to the second area of faithfulness: faithfulness to the demands of justice. Justice demands that what is wrong must be made right by legitimate action, and the way this is told in the Christian story is through judgment. 


Faithfulness to the Demands of Justice 
            Now, judgment is the opposite of peace without cost. That method of bringing peace is disembodied and illegitimate. It is simply a blanket over injustice which does not deal with the reality of evil. Judgment, however, is embodied, it’s specific, it’s gritty, it’s hands-on. It’s legitimate. Judgment deals with the reality of injustice in particular ways. The lie of peace deceptively states, “there is peace,” and does nothing to bring that peace. It doesn’t get its hands dirty or roll up its sleeves to practically deal with injustice. Judgment, however, is in stark contrast. In judgment, God gets into the darkness and the mire with both feet and sifts through every deed in the lives of every person.[5] He wrestles with it, and he condemns it. God takes every single broken piece of this world into his hands, examines them, cleans them off, and puts them back into the whole. 
            What this tells us is that something particular, specific, and practical must be done about injustice to bring peace. Peace requires justice. It is more than the cessation of hostilities. It is the presence of a just outcome. Speaking of the necessity of justice, the apostle Paul writes: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7 NKJV). Somehow God is mocked if a man does not reap what he sows—if injustice is not paid back. Remember King Theoden? When Suruman spun his deceitful lie and asked for peace, Theoden asked, “what will you say of your torches in the Westfeld and the children that lie dead there?” Those innocent lives meant something, and the injustice done to us means something too. This is why peace requires justice. I have said it already, but something must be done. Injustice must be dealt with practically - in actual fact. 
            Do we live this way? Are we faithful to the demands of justice, or do we dismiss them? Are we willing to live in the absence of peace until justice is satisfied or are we more comfortable with the lie, the shortcut, that says “let’s have peace” without saying anything to the evil deeds that lie unimpeded and unaddressed? Would we rather sit comfortably in the illusion of peace than require that justice be done before that peace return? I am afraid it is the latter. When conflict or disharmony arises in our friendships, when someone sins against another and the uncomfortable visage of discord agitates our convenient peace, do we hope that as time passes, it will all just go away? Time does not heal wounds. Time does not bring justice. Yet we expect peace to come if we wait long enough, even if absolutely nothing has been done about the injustice or discord. Forgetfulness invades our minds and we allow vain and vacuous deceptions of peace to push the demands of justice out of our minds. Forgetting is easier, but forgetting does not fulfill the demands of justice. 
            What then does fulfill the demands of justice? How can we be faithful to the demands of justice? Mirslov Volf has a helpful answer to this question. In his book, The End of Memory, Volf addresses this question in the context of God’s new world of peace. He is answering the question: what are the demands of justice that must be met before the new world can arrive? Though our concerns are in the area of personal relationship rather than the world to come, the answer is the same. Volf writes:

If for [the wrongdoer and the wronged] this world is to be a world of perfect love, neither of us can simply look aside pretending the other one is absent or that nothing wrong has happened between us. For then we would not love each other. We must reconcile - we must name the wrongdoings that were committed, we must agree about their nature, we must forgive and receive forgiveness, and we must affirm to each other the goodness of our being there together. If this does not happen neither of us will enter the world of perfect love. [6]

Though Volf talks about the world of perfect love, peace is present in his words. Love includes peace and harmony and reconciliation, and what Volf says is these things are an impossibility without the requirements that he outlines. Justice demands repentance and restitution. We must require likewise if we are to be agents of peace. This is what it looks like to be faithful to the demands of justice. First we must speak up when there is no peace, then we must condemn wrongdoing and require repentance and restitution before peace can be claimed.


Faithfulness to God
            Now we come to the final area of faithfulness: faithfulness to God. This is best understood by the simple statement, taken from Peter: “Entrust yourself to Him who judges justly” (1Pt.2:23).[7] I have spent much of my life trying to bring justice and peace to the places I live and the relationships of which I am a part. The problem is, however, I do not command justice. I cannot bring it myself. If you take these principles to heart that I have explained here, if you decide to see injustice rather than ignore it, if you decide speak out against it, if you refuse to believe the lie that there is peace when injustice surrounds us, and if you decide to require that justice be satisfied before peace can be restored, then you will live in the same dilemma - in-between injustice and peace with no way to bridge the gap. This is where we are faithful. 
            This living in the middle can be maddening with the prophets we ask, “are my actions accomplishing nothing? People are still living in injustice!” This can be maddening, unless we commit ourselves to God and are faithful with the tasks that God has given us. Do justice. Stop saying peace when there is no peace. Start calling out the absence of peace. Condemn injustice and require repentance and restitution. This may bring peace, but it may not. What we must do when our actions fail to bridge the gap between injustice and peace is have faith. Entrust yourself to the Righteous Judge, believing the promise that by Him all wrongs will be made right, and we will finally share a peaceful table with all people, even those who have wronged us. 
 

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Footnotes:

            [1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Online), 63. Accessed Aug. 29th, 2020: www.freenovel24.com/Book/BookDetails?bid=538. 


            [2] Ibid. 


            [3] Paraphrased from the NIV


            [4] Note: When we selfishly desire peace we do so in order to make ourselves more comfortable. The absence of peace in relationships and systems causes discomfort. We become selfish in our peace-bringing when we force peace, through dishonest means, in order to pacify our uncomfortable feelings. This is selfish and it disregards the victim, making their pain peripheral to the greater need of “making myself feel better.” 

 

            [5] Ecclesiastes states: “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

‭‭Ecc. ‭12:14‬ ‭NIV‬‬, and in Acts Paul declares to his listeners: “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭17:31‬ ‭NIV‬‬. These verses tell us that God's judgment will include every deed, hidden or not, and every person: “the world,” and he will do it in justice. This is a specific and meticulous judgement of wrongdoing. It is not merely a false declaration of peace. This is more than the cessation of hostilities. Peace is not the cessation or absence of hostilities. It is the presence of a just outcome. 


            [6] Miroslav Volf, The end of memory: remembering rightly in a violent world (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 181.


            [7] Paraphrased from the NIV

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