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Some thoughts on peace, prizes, and such

October 16, 2009

One of the greatest promises in the word of God is the reward promised to peacemakers: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mat. 5:9) This must tell us that peacemakers do something to effect peace; they don’t merely talk about, or promise to bring about, peace. So peacemaking is a gracious work and a godly commission, not an advertising backdrop to a political campaign.

The 28th chapter of Jeremiah chronicles the false promises of peace made by the false prophet Hananiah. Hananiah was very dramatic, and he pitched a good story with a happy ending. God’s true prophet, Jeremiah, wore a yoke about his neck as an illustration of Israel’s captivity under the king of Babylon. Hananiah tore the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and broke it, claiming on behalf of God that the peoples’ yoke of captivity under Nebuchadnezzar would be broken in just two years, after which all the captives would come home. It sounded great, certainly just what everyone wanted to hear. But unfortunately, Hananiah’s words were not the true words of God. He made the people trust in a lie, and he died for it. We’re not told how he died; perhaps it was nothing dramatic, except that Jeremiah told him he would die within the year, and he did. That was the test of the true and the false prophet: whether what he said came true.

Jeremiah’s prophecies were not popular with his king and countrymen, but his words were of God, and his prophecies bore out. And what he told the people to do who were destined to go to Babylon and endure long captivity, was “seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (Jer. 29:7) This is hardly what people wanted to hear, but it is what happened, and after 70 years, a remnant returned to their homeland. God instructed his people to pray for the peace of the place of their captivity, when peace seemed impossible, either politically or spiritually, for in Babylon’s peace was to be found their own.

If the people of Israel were to pray for the peace of Babylon, surely to goodness we are to pray for the peace of our neighbors and our cities and our nations, for in their peace is our own.

Every day, Yahoo! features lists of cities that are Least Stressful, Most Likely to Rebound from the Recession, Most Expensive, Least Expensive, Most Dog-Friendly, Most Intelligent, or Most Likely to Serve Nachos after Midnight. But even Yahoo!, in its demographically torqued exuberance, doesn’t assure its reading public of peace anywhere. Strife and discord do not flee from cultural amenities, beautiful parks, bicycle paths, or prevalence of high incomes; nor are they repelled by theological darkness, poverty, preventable sickness, or diverse worldviews. There has never been a time of universal peaceful accord on earth since the expulsion of our first parents from the Garden of Eden, and I am not inclined to believe that man will ever bring such a time about. Discord fuels fear, and fear fuels power, and I see no trend toward men’s relinquishment of power.

This is not to say that increased harmony between people and nations is not a worthy, and to some extent attainable, aspiration. Overall, more people have more freedom from fear of annihilation today than in Jeremiah’s time. And yet we still have wars, threats of wars, and every form of depravity that has ever existed. Still, every four years in my country, peace is at or near the top of a political campaign agenda.

It’s stupid, I know, but I wonder whether Hananiah would have been a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize if dynamite had been invented 2600 years earlier.

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