War and Peace – A Reflection

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Paul in his letter to Timothy said:

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you …for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (2 Tim.1:7)

It is with God’s gifts given to all of us it seems appropriate to reflect on the European war raging half a world away and understand what it means for our faith and our hope in God.

I am very hesitant to write on this as I have no experience of war except through others’ stories. 

I have been so fortunate, an accident of birth and inherited privilege has enabled me to live in peaceful places and times, where I can grumble about democracy and not have the slightest worry it is under threat.  I do not have to fear being locked up for saying the wrong thing in my sermons, although some might like to do so, and I can reasonably expect if I critique our government I will most likely be ignored or mocked.  This is the worst I might expect.  My family won’t be threatened or disappeared.

This was not Jesus’ experience.  He lived in a time and place where war, violence, occupation and oppression were commonplace.  Pax Romana was the bribe, the cross applied with brutal oppression, was the stick. The threat of violence was the ever-present mechanics of power holding together the militarized peace. 

Jesus’ parents had been refugees, fleeing a frightened Herod, the puppet Jewish ruler courtesy of Rome looking for their child who was the subject of so many prophecies, threatening Herod’s power and control.  The Messiah was eagerly anticipated by so many of the Jewish people, Messianic kingship interpreted through worldly expectations of violent expressions of power and might.  Judgement and retribution to be inflicted on those who had oppressed, pain and suffering to be inflicted on the enemy in retaliation.  An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

Scandalously and unimaginably, Jesus, the Messiah turned his back on the many tempting opportunities to exercise power and might through violence, from the temptations he experienced in the wilderness to his trial before the Chief Priests, Herod and Pontius Pilate and finally, on the cross.  His choice was radical, totally unexpected, unbelievable by any worldly standards and in so doing, he turned the world upside down and left us with a dilemma as Christians.

In this world we find it almost impossible to imagine remaining peaceful. We all know soldiers.  We can all cite examples of having to defend country, family, culture and life.  Would we refuse to take up arms and fight if we were threatened, or conscripted, without choices and our families left vulnerable?  Would we flee and leave everything behind and refuse to fight?  Would we survive either way?

In this context, how do we think and pray about the violence being inflicted upon countless innocent civilians in Ukraine and Russia? 

And what about Myanmar, the Uighars in China, the populations and in particular women and girls in Iran and Afghanistan, the broken bombed people of Syria and Yemen, and while the list suddenly seems to stretch out lengthily ahead of us, it is also much closer to home we too have to pay attention. 

What about the violence in our own homes, in our communities and with our neighbours?  The children and young people locked up in isolation in concentration camps, tortured in our youth detention centres. What does our war look like and feel like as it edges closer to our homes?  Do you care yet enough to think about what this means for you and your families and your faith?

The dreadful words of Psalm 137 lay bare the grief and anger for all to see by a nation that has been defeated and displaced.  Lamentations 1:1-6 calls out the grief and horror of a country beaten, its citizens taken into exile and slavery with no-one left to remember their former glory and power, their wealth and stature. A people wiped out.

How do we hold the tension between one and the other?  To fight or not, to resist or not, to seek peace in the face of terror.  How far do we go in our fighting?  When is it too far?  War crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing, rape and torture, civilians killed, looting, destruction, hatred and contempt laid out for everyone to see and no-one left to deny the ‘story’ which becomes the only story left to be told.   Perhaps we can justify our actions by promising only to kill other soldiers, but these too are also someone’s son, brother, father, sister, mother, wife and husband, with mourning piling up on the flames of hatred, fanned into fury for generations to come.

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you …for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (2 Tim.1:7)

Where do we start in our reflection about war?  Where is God in this dreadful wasteland of death? 

I have no answers except the complete one of Jesus hanging on the cross, a victim of state corruption, religious self-interest and murder. 

Jesus’ empty cross and the empty tomb.

A new creation.

The Lord be with you.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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