In the 1960s, like a lot of other people, I shouted “Peace! Peace! Peace!” I had a tie-died t-shirt with a peace symbol on it, and I wanted, as John Lennon crooned, to “give peace a chance.” I’m sure my motives were good, but I had no idea what I was really talking about, or what I was really up against. Simultaneous with the peace movements, the idea of sin began to drift out of American consciousness. We would just tell people to become better people and thought that they would. But they didn’t.
There is morally defensible violence, like defending yourself or your family. But beyond that the picture gets fuzzier, as we try to measure the relative moral values of the aggressor and the defender. Inevitably, this ends up being a measure of the morals themselves. So, in this, we look at the individuals who craft war and violence. Their decisions come from a grounding in their own moral values, or the corruption of those values to serve self-interest. Thus, we simply cannot separate personal moral values from the same values shared and used collectively. When values like fairness and kindness are supplanted with values of greed and racial hatred, we see the infectiousness of sin in action. An individual, a community, or a country that is infected will inevitably bring violence in order to impose their values.
In our relativistic world, no one wants to say anymore that their culture’s values are better than some other culture’s values. We’ve adopted a morally separate but equal stance. And, we seem to be edging towards the idea that no one person’s values are better than any other’s – a moral free-for-all within a culture. This inevitably must lead to personal violence, as individuals seek to impose their values.
Christ defined a clear moral system through his teachings, based on selfless service, kindness, fairness, repentance and forgiveness. This has formed the basis for the ideal of a moral system for Christian followers, both individually and collectively. Even many non-Christians, unconvinced of the resurrection of Christ, have nevertheless pointed to his teachings as a powerful moral system. The corrupting power of sin has meant that implementations of this moral system have all been flawed, some seriously, but these ideals have withstood the test of time. Why? Because, when summed up, Jesus’ teachings can lead to inner peace which, withstanding the corruption of sin, can spread peace like an infection of grace. A cornerstone of Christian faith is that Jesus’ has defined a clear and exceptional moral system that can and should be applied both individually and corporately. It is not a system that calls us to hate or degrade other peoples in different, but it is a system that helps us stay out of the morass of moral relativism.
Even though I really didn’t know what I was doing, I am not ashamed to have shouted “Peace! Peace! Peace!” back in the 60s. Then, I was merely parroting what others thought was important, but now I can see peace as a worthy goal for myself as well as my community or country. It reminds me to remember Jesus’ teachings in my worldly interactions. It reminds me to be aware of the powerful temptations of sin, and the sometimes deadly results of giving in. It is also a warning: if it was so easy for me to parrot “peace, peace,” would it be equally easy to parrot “war, war?” I must not, we must not, simply repeat; we must hear Christ’s voice, the voice of the Prince of Peace, in our hearts, then shout the words he places in our mouths as we follow his way. It may not be the popular way, but it is the way of Peace.