Quaker Theology - Issue #4 - Spring 2001

What Can The Bible Teach Us About Peacemaking? -- continued

4. God is merciful and just

If God can be both merciful and just, then both must be possible at the same time. Christians emphasize the aspect of God’s mercy that leads to forgiveness for our sins. Believers who want to be Christ-like must live in the tension between mercy and justice, working for both at the same time. Like God’s, our forgiveness is unconditional. But reconciliation may not be complete without justice. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation commissions are only one very promising experiment in finding ways to meld mercy and justice.

Peacemakers have to "separate persons from problems," as Fisher and Ury put it. 5 The Bible teaches that the only part of this world that can last forever is the human soul. God intended us to live in reconciled relationships. Jesus died to help everyone reconcile to God, and each other, for all eternity. Imagine what an eternal reconciled relationship would be like. 50-year marriages would seem like first dates. Even if I annoy you now, so you drop me to the bottom of your list of "People I’d Like to Get to Know Better in Heaven," eternity is a very long time. Eventually you would have crossed everyone else off that list, and it will be my turn. And we would still have an eternity in front of us to get to know one another.

Of course, by then, under the influence of God and everyone else in Heaven, even I will be a pretty nice guy. So you’ll probably find the experience surprisingly enjoyable.

Now consider your worst enemy. According to the Bible, Jesus died for him, too, intending to make a way for him to come into eternal life, too. Maybe he didn’t even make your list of "People I’d Like to Get to Know." But God’s will is that you and he will also have forever to get acquainted. Eventually you and he are slated to become closer than brothers.

No wonder the Bible, which speaks so clearly about justice, also exhorts us to be quick to forgive. Of course we are to stand with the weak and oppressed, especially when they do not have access to means to meet their needs, and have no way to be heard. But even the oppressor is beloved by God, and so deserves our love. And even the best of us need God’s forgiveness, and so do not have grounds to withhold forgiveness from someone else.

So far we have focused on Biblical themes that draw mostly on God’s nature and relationship with us. We have been looking out-ward or forward to God’s paradise B where we can see clearly pure Goodness, Truth, Mercy and Justice, and no one’s needs will go un-met. This is a consistent Biblical theme B the "Kingdom of God" is coming off in the future, or even in the next world. But it also has already come, at the Creation, in the form of the nation of Israel (espe-cially in the time of the Judges), and most powerfully in the life of Jesus. So Biblical peacemakers can justifiably think of themselves as working in the midst of God’s realm. Because it is partly here already, peacemakers can have confidence that the promise of a loving, just, merciful, true omnipotent God is good for us, as well as for the next world.

But now I want to turn our attention to some features of this world, even in its unredeemed aspects. We start with a foundational point, one implied by the Creation itself and reaffirmed in many ways throughout the Bible.

5. Everything is God’s

Everything in this world is a gift. Of course we did nothing to earn or cause our own birth. Our lives, our very selves, are gifts. They did not have to happen. They were not owed to us.

Humans tend to think of their lives as "given" in a different sense. That is, they assume their lives are a fixed fact of the universe. In fact, there are many who act as if their own birth caused the universe. If the central event in cosmic history is our own existence, then it might be justifiable to assume that the universe belongs to us.

However, even though some Christians seem to think otherwise, the message of the Bible is not that mankind is the central point of the cosmos. God is. The universe comes into being at God’s word, every creature in it owes its existence to the Creator, and even each human being is specially endowed with personality and spirit in the likeness of God.

The universe is God’s, not ours. The story of the Garden of Eden is not about how the serpent steals the universe from us. No, he is trying to steal it from God. Of course, the story goes, the serpent succeeds in part, but only in part. The Biblical story is about how God redeems the earth, first through a covenant, and then by coming in person and dying (and resurrecting).

We occupy the earth for a short time. During that time, God gives us possession of it. But we possess it as stewards for God, not as owners. What comes into my possession is no more mine than is the desk my university "gives" me to use. I can no more fuss if "my" personal possessions are reallocated by God than I could if the university asked me to swap desks. In all my actions, in the use of all "my" things, I am to try to act for God’s purposes.

I mentioned earlier that I understood this better when I had studied the law. Human law recognizes five fiduciary duties when one acts for another: diligence, accounting, information, obedience, and loyalty. The same principles apply to our stewardship for God. We are to be diligent, to always make our best efforts. We are to hold our wealth for God, always ready to dispose of things as God directs. We are to make ourselves transparent before God B as if we had any choice in the matter! (I suppose in this case, the duty of information works backwards: the more transparent we make ourselves, the more God shows us what is out of place in our lives.) We leave our pride and personal agendas behind, and devote ourselves to God’s purposes.

But I am not the only steward to whom God has entrusted the earth B it is not my job to decide all its uses. Every person is equally commissioned to be God’s steward. God has a relationship with every other person, too B there is that of God in everyone. We each need to honor the stewardship of the other. We need to expect God to speak to and through anyone else we might encounter. Rather than entrench hierarchies or even meritocracies, we need to be ready to recognize leadership and inspiration from wherever it might come. Emergent servant leadership is the pattern God prescribed and used in Judges Israel and among the prophets and apostles. God used shepherds, youngest sons, carpenters, poor widows, tax collectors. We should be ready to do the same. God used Israelites, enemies of Israel, and people Jews considered beneath their dignity to acknowledge or care about. God gave each of them something important to be steward over. God expects them to come through, and gives them room to succeed or fail, and asks us to respect them and listen to them because they are commissioned to tell us some Truth we need to hear. So we should be ready to listen.

We cannot indulge in political polarization or dehumanization of anyone: not our neighbor, not another ethnicity, not a political foe; not an Arab, not a Jew, not an Afrikaaner; not Hitler, not Stalin; not Sharon, not Arafat; not Nixon, not Reagan, not Clinton. Not Bush.

6. The world is fallen but redeemed and the people in it are of infinite value

Redemption, like the Kingdom of God, is already achieved in one sense, is now being achieved in another, and is yet to be achieved in a third. Peacemakers need to take notice of the redemption of fallen nature for a variety of reasons.

The fall doomed us to repeated failure to find the ways that exist to meet everyone’s needs. Suffering will happen. It cannot be avoided. Yet the world is precious, far beyond what we can imagine. It is still beautiful and good; it still bears the likeness of God. It was worth enough that God willingly shared in our sufferings in order to heal some of them and redeem us. We may need to do the same. And we are asked to do it patiently, accepting the inevitability of suffering in a fallen world; or even joyously, in recognition of the opportunity for redeeming a little more of the world.

There is an even happier aspect to this Biblical theme. The goodness in the world was put there for us. My children used to get tired of me telling them to enjoy the sunset "because it was put there for your enjoyment. Don’t let it go to waste!" Only recently did I rea-lize that one could be greedy for something as immaterial as a sunset, as I am. Greed is evil, an attempt to hoard for oneself what was meant for others. We should avoid greed, as good stewards; but on the other hand, we should revel in the goodness of things, also because we are good stewards. The world was created with so much goodness in it that, even after the Fall, there is more than we can possibly absorb. It runs through our lives like a vast river. We can dive in, slurp it up, have the world’s goodness running down our chins and soaking our pants, and all we have done is sipped a few cupfuls out of an Amazon. We can never even glimpse it all. To snub the river of God’s goodness, for whatever motive, is to insult and disappoint the Giver.

I am not sure that shalomic peace as we have defined it is really the ultimate in a peaceable vision. Does it remind us to protect and nourish the goodness of the Earth, and to revel in it? Is there some higher standard that includes the created order, some Edenic peace still ill-defined? The Bible hints at such a thing. Or perhaps the Bible fairly sings of it, and I have been just too tone deaf to hear it. Annie Dillard isn’t, and I think I know a few others. Maybe I had better listen to them some more.

There is more to say, especially about some of the implications of these broad lessons. I am out of time to say it. I have created some charts that summarize what should be said. [Ed. Note: To see the charts, go to the Quaker Peace Roundtable site.) Please consider them. They barely scratch the surface, I believe, of what the Bible teaches about peace.


1. Perhaps the classic 20th Century statement of the Christian pacifist position is in Father Richard McSorley’s New Testament Basis of Peacemaking (Georgetown University, 1979). Other good recent popular studies of pacifism include Dale W. Brown, Biblical Pacifism: A Peace Church Perspective (Brethren Press, 1986); Vernard Eller, War and Peace From Genesis to Revelation (Herald Press, 1981); Ron Sider and Richard Taylor, Nuclear Holocaust and Christian Hope (InterVarsity Press, 1982); and Ralph Beebe and John Lamoreau, Waging Peace (Barclay Press, 1980). The Biblical studies for a more academic audience include John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Eerdmans, 1972) and Willard M. Swartley, Ed., The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament (Westminister, 1992).

2. Melanie Springer Mock.

3. Kenneth Boulding, Three Faces of Power (Sage, 1989).

4. In summarizing Boulding’s three faces of power, I am partly drawing on Hugh Miall, Oliver Ramsbotham, and Tom Woodhouse, Contemporary Conflict Resolution (Polity Press, 1999), 11- 13.

5. Roger Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes (2d Edition, Penguin, 1991), especially Chapter 2.


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