05 March 2014

peace and war: an ash wednesday thought

We are a people at war.  This is what I gather, to some degree, every time I hear the news - and it doesn't matter what the source, the world is at war in some way, shape or form right now.  Globally, there are nations in turmoil, some facing the threat of invasion and others living through the horrors of internal and tribal war.  In this own country there seems to be a war between those who claim a different set of moral principles, at times becoming hotter than others.  My city is also filled with all sorts of violence toward one another, mostly over things of no intrinsic value but rather the whims of popularity and self-gratification.

Once I start to look I see that the world's warring isn't simply something to consider for a few moments before moving on with my day.  A serious examination shows that every layer between the theoretical concept of evil and my own sense of safety is stripped away by the ongoing violence that surrounds me.  Of course, it is much easier to place blame on theological problems of evil, and thus keep it a relative distance from me.  But the truth about evil is this - no matter how hard I might try, the war will be brought to my own doorstep and, if given the opportunity, make me a casualty.

I can look at the saber-rattling nations, the corrupt politicians, the thugs and gangs, and everyone else between generic theory and personal experience, with the intent of keeping evil at an arm's length from me.  But this will never work - not in the long run.  And it should become readily apparent to those with eyes to see and ears to hear that there is a much bigger problem than all of these external layers of our lives and the acts of war they wage.  The problem is that the war has already come to me.  In fact, the war began in the human heart - a collective of which I am a natural part.

The theoretical problem of evil might be helpful in a philosophical-theological way, but it often presented in such a way as to overlook the most fundamental problem of sin and evil - namely, that I embody evil at war with God.  This might sound rather harsh to some, but a problem must be properly diagnosed before treatment can be prescribed, and this is the reality of my situation.

It appears that the heart's war against god is quite serious, for evil can win the battlefield of the heart.  I believe that the only force in all creation which can stop the power of god is the human heart, so the stakes are nothing short than my very life.  In other words, this internal war is not simply a theory, or the beginnings of a five-step program.  It is life and death in very real terms.

And it is from this war - ongoing within every human heart - that every other war and violence originates.  We are in conflict with one another because we are in conflict with our creator (and thus do not know what to do with ourselves, our world, or our lives).  When Jesus told us that we would be blessed as peacemakers we quickly assumed that our interpersonal human relationships were the sole context of his beatitude.  But Jesus said that those who make peace will be called children of God.  Might he have first meant that we would wage peace in our own hearts, quieting the battle between our own evil and our creator, before we were able to wage peace with others?  When we consider the whole of the gospel message, there can be no doubt that this is the right direction.

Today is marked on the church calendar as a reminder of this reality - that our world is at war, that we are at war, and that the end result of all of this is death.  It is a death we have earned for ourselves because we considered equality with God as something to be grasped.  Only when we come to this truth, and face the ashes of our lives once examined in the fire of the divine presence, can we ever hope to grab hold of the life and peace that is now offered to a broken humanity.

Ours is a world at war.  That war begins and ends within the human heart, which is the only thing that Jesus came to remedy, even with all of the problems that he could have addressed - political, religious, economic, societal, military, etc.  He believed that the most radical change when peacemaking could be made within the human heart, for that would in turn carry the new life of the kingdom into all the world.  What would happen if those who claimed to be disciples of Jesus became seriously engaged in this battle, first for themselves and then to the aid of others?

Today is a day of emptiness.  It is a day of dust and ashes, for the effects of the war we have waged against our creator.  It is a day to be solemn and quiet, and to act as though everything is not alright with the world . . . or ourselves.  The journey that will follow will put all of this back together once again, ushering in a new life and a new spirit to once again ignite new hearts.  That is where peace can be found in the midst of countless wars and battles that threaten to overcome us.  And we will be children of God.

No comments: