In our last article we considered the sign of the end: wars and rumors of wars. In that connection, the question arises: what is the attitude of the child of God towards peace on this earth?
That there is a world-desire for peace on this earth seems to be self-evident. There are in our own country many movements which advocate, sometimes vociferously, peace—and often, peace-at-any-price. And how often is not seen today the circle with its inverted and broken cross. It’s the “peace sign.” One encounters it everywhere. It decorates the clothing of all sorts of people. It adorns many buildings. It is placed upon autos. It has been the “in” thing to display the peace sign. Then there is also the “finger sign,” the “V” formed with two of the fingers. It is a sign recognized particularly by the young. Or again, there are the slogans, one of the most crude but prevalent of which is: “Make love, not war.”
Again, there have been the formal and official drives for peace on this earth. Nations unite in the United Nations where they find a forum to reveal grievances—rather than resort to war. Nations appear to vie with each other in order to serve as mediators between warring factions. Men are praised for their efforts towards peace—and even receive sizable “prizes” when these efforts are particularly noteworthy or effective.
The whole question of worldly peace faces children of God today. The church no longer lives in that isolation which it had in the past. The passions, the goals, the drives, which are seen in the world, are soon enough reflected in the church too. One sees our young people, especially, give the “peace sign” with their fingers; they draw the “peace symbol” on their papers and books. They also are very free in their use of the word “peace” and its Hebrew equivalent “shalom” when they write their letters.
And who is not for peace? Is this indeed not one endeavor in which the world and the church can join hands? I recall distinctly in my college days already that many would look askance at any professing the name of Christ who could not “pray for peace” in this world among all men.
The plea for peace
That within this world there arises a universal cry for peace is not difficult to understand. The history of this world has been a history of wars. There has been an unmeasured amount of suffering and agony because of wars. Our own generation has known more than its share of war. There is in war the obvious killing and maiming. Not only soldiers are victims in these wars, but civilian populations perhaps suffer even more. These are caught in the cross-fire of two armies. Bombs are dropped on their villages. Parents are killed—with children seeking somehow to sustain their existence by digging through garbage pails (if there are such available). Children are, through violent death, snatched from their parents. Many are cruelly maimed. Soldiers, if they return home at all, might do so without arms or legs. Some are terribly disfigured. The same is true for many of the civilian population. The cruelties of war make one shudder. But even this is not the end. Mass starvation and the spread of many plagues are the fruits of wars too. Thousands die because of malnutrition. Homes have been destroyed. Means of livelihood are taken away.
No wonder that there is a cry arising within this world for a peace that will cover the face of the earth. There is a cry to remove weapons of destruction; to “beat the swords into plowshares.” And I can, I think, understand that longing of man who wants to preserve for himself and his family a measure of peace and quiet.
It seems expected that the church would join in this cry for peace. Who, after all, wants war? What is expected, is also done. The church becomes increasingly engaged in the efforts to establish peace. It has its annual “prayer day for peace.” (And the Protestant Reformed Churches are looked at askance when any hear that these churches do not have a “prayer day for peace.”) In recent years, many in the church insist that this “prayer for peace” is not sufficient. The church must also do something. Therefore church bodies make ponderous decisions concerning the wrongness of entering into any offensive or defensive nuclear warfare. Decisions are made urging especially the United States to disengage unilaterally in Southeast Asia. Decisions are made concerning the “conscientious objector” to selected wars. And individuals, emphasizing their “Christianity,” burn their draft cards; they seek ways to escape the draft. Ah, yes; the church wants “peace” too!
But before entering further into the problem, it is well to consider of what we are speaking when we mention “peace.” Within the world, peace might be defined negatively by stating that it is the absence of war. I suspect that one who was pressed to give a positive expression of “peace” would insist that it is brotherhood among men whereby the needs of all would be met. Peace would be some sort of euphoria in man’s utopia.
The question which must be answered for us is: what is the Scriptural idea of peace? Scripture does use the word “peace” in that common sense: absence of war. Yet both in the Old and New Testaments it soon becomes evident that the idea of “peace” includes far more than man usually suggests by it. In fact, I would maintain that the Scriptural idea of true peace is at variance with the world’s idea of peace.
First, what the world seeks when it speaks of peace is in reality a farce. The peace which the world seeks is a sinful thing. Scripture says that the wicked are hypocritical when they claim to be seeking peace (Jer. 6:14; Ps. 28:3; Is. 57:21). In actual fact, says Scripture, there is never peace to the wicked (Is. 48:22; I Thess. 5:3). More yet: the wicked have never known the way of peace—in spite of their claim that they seek it (Rom. 3:17; Is. 59:8). Nor did Jesus come to establish peace here on this earth among all men (Matt. 10:34). And peace remains impossible for the wicked until the root-trouble is removed: their lust (James 4:1-2).
Secondly, the Word reveals what is true peace—a peace which is possible only for the church of Jesus Christ. The only source of all peace is God Himself (Heb. 13:20; Eph. 1:2; I Cor. 14:33; II Thess. 3:16). God is pleased to establish peace (that is, reconciliation to Himself in the way of complete payment for our sins) with His people through Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:14-15;Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:20). This peace is the subject of the preaching. (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:15). That peace reveals itself in the saints through a godly, spiritual walk (Rom. 8:6; Col. 3:15; Gal. 5:22; Heb. 12:14). It is for this spiritual peace upon the church for which we constantly pray—and for nothing else (Ps. 122:6).
Pray for worldly peace?
Must I not join many others in this world in seeking earthly peace—and praying for that? To refuse to pray for this sort of peace is considered almost non-Christian. In fact, if one were to maintain that he can not pray for worldly peace, then the alternative is pointed out: he must be praying for wars in this earth. Therefore many Christians join together in praying for worldly peace. Then many Christians consider it a mark of piety to give “peace” signs or sign their letters with “peace” without always distinguishing that ‘sort of peace which they do seek.
I refuse to be placed before such a godless dilemma: pray either for godless wars or for godless peace. Any who would place a Christian before these two choices, seek to compel them to chose the lesser of two evils—and then insist that this must be the subject of our prayers. I can not simply pray for wars as such—for wars are evidences of the evil lusts which fill the hearts of men. Nor can I pray for that hypocritical sort of peace which man seeks today—a peace in which he can concentrate all his endeavors in the service of sin and against God and His Kingdom.
I object, too, when “peace” is placed in some sort of category such as “motherhood.” Why, no one is against “motherhood”! How much less ought one to be against “peace”? But this comparison is also extremely misleading. One may emphatically be “for” motherhood—but surely not in the way of violation of God’s seventh commandment. So also the Christian is “for” peace—but not such sort of peace which is established contrary to God’s holy law. What is done in violation to God’s law, must be condemned as being sinful.
Therefore, too, the child of God must beware lest he give even the appearance of joining this world in its evil endeavors. There is simply no place for the world’s “peace signs” in the life of the saints. We ought to shun that as the plague. Therefore also, though I can and must pray for peace, I do not desire to join all men on specific days for “prayers for peace.” I believe that the peace of this world and the peace which surpasses all understanding are diametrically opposed. When I seek the one, I reject the other. When I seek the peace of my Master, I reject the peace of the Master of darkness (Matt. 6:24).
Pray for heavenly peace
There is the better way—the only way. One must seek and pray for the peace which surpasses understanding. He must pray that God’s peace be established now in the hearts of the elect of God, and that it finally be established in all of its glory and perfection in heaven itself.
When I pray for that peace, I understand that I am praying that all the signs of which Scripture speaks will also be fulfilled. I do not pray “for” war or “for” famine as such. I pray rather that God work all things on this earth that His Word may be fulfilled in all of its details. I pray for grace to submit to that will of God. I can not pray for less. I can not pray that anything may happen contrary to the revelation of His Word. I can not pray that the signs He has given us concerning the soon-return of Christ be removed. I pray that His will may be done.
I pray that peace may be established in the hearts of all His elect in the way of their regeneration and calling. I pray that God may reconcile His own to Himself and bring them to the consciousness and confession of that reconciliation. That spiritual peace I desire for myself and for all of the saints. And I understand that such peace is contrary to that sort of peace which man strives to establish.
In praying for peace, I pray, finally, for the peace of the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells. There all wars will be removed—for lust shall be rooted out. There shall be no more sin. Righteousness shall fill that Kingdom. Peace shall dwell there. For God and His people shall dwell together through Jesus Christ in beautiful fellowship and communion.
No wonder we rejoice even now in the fact that “. . . The Lord is at hand.” (Phil. 4:5).