Believe and Obey

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Peace via Forgiveness

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What is Peace?

Is that an ambitious enough question to begin an essay?  I would argue that peace is not simply the absence of conflict, or war, but rather a positive state of being in which the troubles of this world do not penetrate your heart.  Yet, that does seem unsatisfying to people in a world seemingly beset by war and violence on all sides.  It is all well and good to keep a peaceful heart amidst troubles all around, but how do we go from there to a more peaceful world in general?  Specifically, how do we build a world of peace that ends war?

Most people would suggest that no war is a necessary, yet not sufficient condition to a peaceful world.  It is true that I have argued that peace is the first, most important issue confronting any society.  Indeed, if we are to do anything productive in this world, we must have peace.

That said, I think that most people have the order reversed.  Peace, true, lasting, sustainable peace, is not imposed from the top down.  It rises from the bottom up.  This means that it starts with the individual.  That means, it starts with us.

Peace Starts from Within

So, peace starts from within.  What does that mean?  How is this supposed to work, or is this just some life coach bullshit?  Where I think it begins for all of us as individuals is with forgiveness.  It is only through forgiveness that we can construct a more peaceful world.  This is the first, necessary condition to build a world with less violence, hatred and ultimately war.  This is the cornerstone of a world where there is space for all the positive things that humans can possibly create can grow.  So, who must we forgive?  First, and hardest, ourselves.  Whatever we may have done, or thought we have done, we must let go and forgive.  This can be brutally hard.  It cuts against much of what we have learned in our culture.  It is one thing to be accountable, and responsible for your actions.  This is a positive thing.  Yet, taken to extremes, it becomes soul crushing.  Mixed in with this is the all too prevalent notion that not even God would forgive us, so how can we forgive ourselves.  It is all redolent of the hoary, and specious theological idea that we must earn our way into heaven.  We must engage in good works to become worthy of God.  I have written all about this in my book Understanding God: The Joy of Finally Hearing God’s Good and Gracious Word.  My faith journey is a testament to the destructive notion of “works righteousness”.

Yet, even after clearly understanding God’s good and gracious word, I still had not forgiven myself for the things I had done, particularly in my drunken youth.  Therapy, and more complete trust in God’s forgiveness allowed me to finally forgive myself.

That breakthrough allowed me to take the next important step in this process, asking for forgiveness.  I also wrote of that in my book, so I will not rehash this here.  The point is that we all need forgiveness for things we have done.  Asking (begging) someone else for that forgiveness is only slightly less hard than forgiving yourself.  It is far easier to forgive someone else than to ask forgiveness.  In granting forgiveness, you have all the control.  In asking for forgiveness, you are throwing yourself upon another’s mercy.  I truly think this is possible once you have accepted God’s forgiveness and then forgiven yourself.  It also, importantly, becomes easier to start forgiving others once you have reached this point.  This is where we can do some open field running, so to speak.

Radiating Forgiveness & Peace Outward

The ability to forgive yourself first, then others, allows for the possibility of building peaceful structures in society.  This allows us to move past the previous wrongs committed by all and the hurts that stay with us, that results in the world too often slipping back into violence.  By starting with ourselves and radiating this forgiveness outward we can build a peaceful, hence sustainable economy predicated upon cooperation, not coercion.  This would be an economy that is not ripping off others who do not have political power.  It would be an economy that has moved past and forgiven those who previously helped themselves at the public trough.  We can let it go and move on in a peaceful, productive direction.  It becomes, not about revenge, but about restoration and rebuilding.

Such a peaceful, and sustainable economy has no need to aggress against anyone overseas, nor to build a foreign policy based upon ripping off other countries, the way the current unforgiving US imperial policy is structured.  We can build a world where goods cross borders, not armies.

From here we can create a virtuous cycle that sees one act of forgiveness-based peace built upon another.  Peace begets reciprocal peace, which begets more peace, and on and on.  An act of forgiveness and peace creates in others the desire to obtain this as well.  That leads to them forgiving themselves, and others, and building even more peaceful structures.

None of this is easy.  It takes commitment, faith, and sacrifice.  People may often not respond the way you want them to…at first.  Keep at it, keep forgiving, and moving toward a world built upon forgiveness-based peace.  Your faith will see progress.  Progress mind you not perfection.  Perfection is not available this side of eternity.  But persistent, faithful witness to your own, and others forgiveness will see improvement.

This is Our Only Path Forward

All this may seem pie in the sky, but it has worked in the past, as I pointed out in an essay some years ago.  Two outstanding examples of peace-based progress are Gandhi’s grasping the jewel from the crown of the British empire, India, by solely peaceful methods.   Even more on point is what happened in South Africa after apartheid.  The progress orchestrated by Nelson Mandela was explicitly based upon forgiveness of the white oppressors.  This started with Mandela himself and radiated out to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that put this into practice.  Yes, it can be done.

There is no other path forward for humanity than a world of peace.  We simply cannot build an improved civilization amid our present violence.  This is as true for the unbeliever as it is for the faithful.  For the faithful, we are absolutely proscribed from all violence as set forth by our exemplar Jesus the Christ.  He teaches, and lived ultimate forgiveness of everyone, up to and including forgiveness of those murdering Him.  He did this from the Cross!  The only acceptable response to God’s gifts of grace upon grace is to, as best we can, forgive…ourselves, then others, then build a forgiveness-based peace that can demonstrably help our world.  This movement can, and I think must encompass even those who do not share our faith.  We do what we do because of our receipt of God’s gifts, but this must by necessity be a total human movement.

There will be those, even amongst the faithful, who think this is all naïve.  My retort to that response is, if our faith does not change us and motivate us toward radiating God’s forgiveness and peace outward, then what are we playing at?  If we only “witness” on Sunday or fall back on empty ritual to make us “righteous”, then we are indeed most to be pitied.  Jesus Christ changed the world, not by laying hands on another, but by laying down His life in forgiveness of our sins.  Can we attempt any less in His name?

Praise Be to God

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