The peaceable kingdom
The peaceable kingdom
I’m a pacifist – I don’t think war is justifiable. But in spite of my convictions, sometimes it seems like violence is the only answer.
When my son came home from school and told me that another student had tried to choke him, my first instinct was not peaceful. I wanted to teach Jackson how to kick and punch his way out of the situation – to harm this child so we would never have to deal with him again.
Instead, I spent the evening crying, praying and telling my son that Jesus loves this kid, even if we don’t. I’ve come to believe that the reason Jesus talks so plainly about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek is because it doesn’t come naturally to us. It isn’t our knee-jerk reaction. It’s only through prayer, tears and work that we foster this kind of love.
In Scripture, we learn that history is moving toward a time when God reigns, a time of shalom (peace), when all the relationships broken by The Fall are restored. In this peaceable kingdom, lions and lambs will be playmates. Swords and spears will be turned into plows and pruning hooks. Peace is not just the absence of violence; it is the flourishing of people and creation.
This vision of peace, promised in the Old Testament, arrives in the New Testament with the birth of a baby, born to peasants. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God. In Galatians 3, Paul tells us that in Christ, everything that divides us is no more. Race, socio-economic status, gender, age – none of it matters. None of it is important in God’s kingdom. Jesus is our shalom. As Christians, we are called to expose evil, without mirroring it.
But although the kingdom of God is already here, it’s also not yet here. The evil that surrounds us is obvious, from bullies in schoolyards to conflict and war. The Bible is never romantic about the vision of shalom. In this kingdom, peace is hard work. It is a gift and a task. Each one of us is responsible to make peace – to sow seeds of love, forgiveness, grace and mercy.
Peace is risky; it must be dared. “There is no way to peace along the way of safety,” said Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Battles are not won with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross, where Jesus triumphed over evil, where he spoke words of love and forgiveness in the face of hate and violence.
This is a king who turns things upside down. Who interrupts our patterns of behaviour. Who turns capital punishment into life. Who shows us the way of suffering love.
This peace doesn’t mean we sit idly by while men, women and children are hurt; when one child chokes another in the school playground. No, you call the principal. You demand better attention in the schoolyard. It doesn’t mean we sit and wait for the coming kingdom. As Christians, we are called to expose evil, without mirroring it.
So Jackson and I spent that night – and many nights after – praying and listening for God. We pray for that young boy by name. As we pray, our hearts grow softer. Peace and forgiveness interrupt our hurt and anger. We learn more about him, this boy whose name is said with disdain by teachers and parents at the school. He has no friends. He is uncontrollable. A nuisance.
Later, we learn that he has been removed from his home, where he was abused. My heart breaks. Now I pray not just for the little boy, but for his parents. Because, again, my first reaction was not prayer, but something slightly more vindictive.
I follow this calling of Jesus humbly, daring to hope that in small gestures of love and forgiveness, the shalom of Jesus Christ might interrupt our lives, our way of thinking and our world.
Read more about National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence Day.
Lieutenant Kristen Jackson-Dockeray is the Divisional Youth Secretary in the British Columbia Division.
This article first published by the Canadian Salvationist.