“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
While watching snippets of the January 23-25 Interfaith Conference On Drone Warfare at Princeton Theological Seminary, I was intrigued by the underlying assumption of several of the speakers. Reverend Susan Hayward (United Church of Christ), interim director at the Religion and Peacebuilding Center of the United States Institute of Peace, expressed that assumption well as she alluded to the notion of sustainable peace and a world without war; this was expressed not only as an ideal, but as something to be accomplished here and now.
Hayward stated, “Love of God with all your mind and heart and soul comes first, because once you get that right, everything else falls into place. Once you orient yourself everything toward the end of loving God, naturally from that flows the love of neighbor, of all creation, and ultimately the creation of the peaceable kingdom (emphasis added).” She argues that perfection is able to be attained in this world through loving God and loving neighbor; she frames this as an inevitable response:
That’s where the great commandment leads we are promised in Christianity and in the Judaic roots from which we draw. Put another way, the Christian faith teaches us that it’s possible to eradicate sin and violence and to create a world in which all human beings flourish living into fullness. The world, meanwhile, tells us that’s an impossible pipedream.
Hayward recognizes that peace is difficult to attain, but, in addition to seeing the establishment of peace as a purely human effort, she also believes we – today – have everything necessary to establish a world without war:
The just peace paradigm recognizes that peace must be constantly built because the world’s powers and principalities and priorities are constantly trying to pull us away from peace. And it operates from that rather absurd notion that our faith teaches us that a world without war is actually possible, that we already have all of the resources and the knowledge and the institutions to create sustainable peace now. (emphasis added)
Hayward, however, does not include the eradication of sin as part of her program for sustainable peace. She explains that sustainable peace is:
An environment in which people have collaborative and supportive relationships and in which there is a lack of structural and cultural violence – the suffering caused by economic and political structures of exploitation and repression and the aspects of culture – including religion and ideology – used to dehumanize others and legitimate violence. Or to put it in more “Jesus-y” speak: this is shalom or salaam – a context marked by the conditions conducive to human flourishing, in which all people live with dignity able to become who God calls them to be, able to live fully, their soul expanding into the infinite blue, true dream of “yes.”
Hayward claims that Christianity teaches that war, sin, and violence can be eradicated. Our Lord makes a different claim. In the Olivet discourse, found in St. Matthew 24, St. Mark 13, and St. Luke 21, our Lord teaches that the Church will often be in the midst of war. His disciples have asked him what the sign of his second coming and the end of the world will be. Our Lord tells them not to be worried.
Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
This inevitability of violence and suffering does not allow the followers of Christ to become complacent, rather it calls them to work all the harder as they recognize that the world cannot be perfected until our Lord returns to make all things new. The prophet Jeremiah explains why this is; he writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” St. Paul explains this further, “when [sinners] knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
Injustice and violence begin within each human person and their relationship with God; once that relationship is severed, the injustice and violence spreads between every man and his neighbor. Any attempt to establish a universal and lasting peace that addresses external conditions but not the problem of sin is doomed to failure. Christian teaching on the nature of man teaches that even if the problem of sin is addressed, there will still be those who reject the love of God. There will not be peace on earth until our Lord returns as judge and removes those who reject his peace.
Christians, having long recognized this truth, have embraced St. Paul’s teaching that the government – and even governmental use of violence and coercion against evildoers – is a human good put in place by God. Governments “bear not the sword in vain” nor do they bear it only metaphorically. As the promised return of our Lord in judgment demonstrates, sometimes the only loving response left to the wicked and violent is their destruction. This sad fact should drive Christians yet again to put their hope in Christ and his promise of redemption from sin rather than in solely material attempts to eradicate violence and suffering.