There is a lot of unrest and division in the world. A lot of conflict, fighting, dissent and hate. How come we can’t just all live in peace? What is it about the human condition that engenders this continual conflict?
So I ask, where is peace to be found? How can we find it? There are many peace plans available. John Lennon’s plan is very popular:
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
Often held up as an anthem for peace. John sees a number things that cause conflict and his solution to getting peace is simple. Remove the causes of division and everyone will be happy. This includes religion, country, and possessions. Then somehow everyone will be happy and live in peace with each other. I’ll add to that list their politics and sexuality as they seem to be hot topics today.
I must say that I very much disagree with this both on practical and philosophical levels. First off, this is a naive of understanding of human nature. It follows from the idea that we can change people’s behaviour by changing their environment, an Outside-In approach. We have seen communities moved from sink estates to newer, better environments only for those new places to become newer versions of the old estate, with all its old problems.
The alternative approach is Inside-Out. When the person changes their values, aspirations and goals they will want to do things differently. There is an proverb on this: “Take the slums out of the people and they will take themselves out of the slums.” This has a problem for governments wanting to be seen dealing with social problems as it’s not very concrete. How do they show that they are actually doing something?
Some people only value themselves by measuring themselves against others. Are they richer, more powerful, more intellectual or more recognised than others? In order to increase their self-worth some will act against others to pull them down, feeling it will effectively raise them up. A symptom of this is the modern phenomena of internet trolls and bullies who prey on the vulnerable.
Anyway, we simply cannot remove all the differences between people. My friend Janice, who is a Geordie (from the north of England), in her rich Geordie accent she told me about a recent conversation she had had about skin colour. She’d said that if everyone were blind they wouldn’t know where anyone was from. “No, Janice, she was told, as soon as you open your mouth, they’d know”
And so it is, “Ginger and proud”, the battle of the sexes, upper vs working class, rich vs poor, conservative vs progressive. There will always be ways to divide into US and THEM. The opportunities for superiority/inferiority, prejudice and hate remain.
But what if we were actually able to remove all these differences, would we be happy then? Lennon suggests that removing the causes of conflict means that we are all naturally happy together. I don’t think so. I think that people will lose their sense of being or purpose. Life will become bland, grey and unsatisfying. Sartre, the philosopher, proposed that men are “condemned to be free”. To gain fulfilment we must commit our lives to something. Sartre didn’t specify what we should commit to, but that we needed to find something.
People have a need for commitment. Many of those who reject God and religion find causes that they commit to with the same zeal and the same willingness to enforce it on others that they complain comes from religion. Look at the anger and actions of the “Make poverty History” group, the anti-global warming movement, or the LGBTQ movements.
The need for opposition
Let’s bring God back into the equation. Sartre was so near – yet so far. He knew of commitment but excluded God. Yet Gods influence is exactly what we need for peace. God gives no licence to force our fellow man but encourages us to love them and invite others to share our views.
Indeed, as Christians we know that differences and opposing factions are important to God’s purpose for us here on earth. We show what sort of people we are by deciding to choose God and committing to him, and doing this midst of all our trials and other experiences. We need alternatives otherwise no choices are possible. There is an interesting passage in the Book of Mormon on this:
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.
These differences also make life interesting. One of my fellow students at university declared that she wouldn’t want everyone to be good for that very reason. Life would be so grey and boring.
So if we don’t get peace by removing differences, how do we gain it? Once again, the need for choice is vital. We can try our own ideas for peace but in the end we need to turn to God and feel his support for us. He promises us joy and peace, though not as the world gives peace. Jesus said in John 14:27:
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
This peace if not the peace between nations, but our being at peace amid all that is going on around us. This is an Inside-Out peace that comes from understanding a bigger picture than our immediate environment of our lives. We will still have tribulations but our understanding and the feeling of Gods love will bear us up John 16:33:
33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
I suppose that if one rejects God they will reject this type of peace too and ideas like Lennon’s will appear attractive.
What do I do?
So what do we do? We exercise choice. We choose to do the things that lead to peace with all our hearts. And these are:
- We choose to trust God. When we accept that Christ has paid the price for our suffering, we have hope for the future. Life becomes better already. As we choose Him he makes himself know to us and feel more secure in who we are.
- We choose to love others and reject the temptation to hate. We need to get to know others even when they are THEM. The more personal this is the better. As we hear the personal stories of, for example, migrants or refugees, the more we understand that these are real people and that, but for the grace of God, their experiences could have been yours. The are our spiritual brothers and sisters. Service to our fellow man affirms our humanity and lifts us closer to God.
- We choose to repent and forgive. We all do things wrong and sometimes our pride stops us admitting it or even caring about it. When we choose to be sorry for those mistakes we have made and try to put them right we lift burdens of guilt and animosity from ourselves and possibly from those we have wronged. We all have bad things done to us too. When we forgive others for those things, we drop burdens of resentment and of victimhood. It is interesting that my holding grudges forgive hurts me more than it hurts you. Dropping them add to our peace.
- We choose to think of others and allow them the same freedoms that we want. This is where we tolerate the views of those who disagree with us. Sometimes it’s difficult as we can see the “error of their ways” so clearly that it’s tempting to try to force them for their own good.
Peace comes from our choices. Being reactive or allowing ourselves to feel victims does not bring peace. Let’s choose peace, starting today.
P.S. I found a good article here on these choices here, if you are interested in more thoughts on this topic.