Thursday, December 15, 2016
ADVENT OF THE LIGHT: PEACE
In a world that is often darkened by war, violence and injustices, the human family has clung to the hope for a future time of peace.
Too often peace is mistakenly seen only as the absence of war and social unrest. But history is filled with examples of so-called peaceful ages that were nevertheless filled with injustice and suffering. The Roman Empire—into which Jesus and his first followers were born—prided itself on maintaining peace (the Pax Romana). This “peace” was narrowly defined as putting down any rebellion and social unrest; silencing critics and dissenters; imposing strict social order while quickly and severely punishing any who dared break the law. It was assumed then—as indeed, it is often assumed now—that peace can be imposed; that violence and the threat violent punishment can bring about and maintain peace.
The ancient prophetic writings of the Israelites put forth a vision of peaceful age that would be brought about by a future Messiah—and this vision was embraced centuries later by those who followed Jesus. The most famous example from these prophetic writings is found in the Book of Isaiah:
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might; the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. In that day, the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.’ (Isaiah 11:1—10)
At first glance, the vision seems to maintain the same ideas regarding peace that are found elsewhere in the history of the ancient world—namely, that a messianic individual (the “shoot” or stem that will come up from “the stump of Jessie”) will appear and impose peace by force.
But even as this vision concentrates on the work of this one messianic individual, there are some differences. When he appears, he will not judge by what he sees and hears, but with the spirits of knowledge and wisdom he will be able to discern the true condition of the poor and the needy; and so, his judgments will be rooted in righteousness; he will act justly.
This expands the concept of peace beyond just the absence of violence, war, crime and social unrest: the concept of peace is broadened to include justice—and justice for the weakest and least influential people in society.
The concept of peace is further expanded to include a change in natural inclinations themselves: animals that instinctively attack each other are envisioned as living peacefully side by side with each other—and with human beings.
Certainly many people anciently thought so—which is why the majority of those who clung to Isaiah’s prophecy rejected Jesus of Nazareth as their long-awaited Messiah. Simply put, though he may have been seen a just, wise and merciful, he was executed as a common criminal by the Roman Empire. Indeed, he was executed in a manner (crucifixion) that was reserved for political enemies of the state. After his execution the world apparently continued on in darkness, with a constant stream of wars, violence, crimes and injustices. The wolf, the lion and the lamb were still not living peacefully side by side.
Perhaps Peace is not something that can be imposed upon us but is something which we must actively pursue —as is suggested by this scripture:
“Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace…” (Doctrine & Covenants 98:16)
Perhaps we must first renounce war—a powerful act of faith in itself, since we live in a world in which physical power and the threat of physical attack are the foundation of all human law and government.
But renouncing war—even refusing to participate in war—will have a limited effect on bringing about the kind of peace imagined without this:
“And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:125)
While this scripture speaks of clothing oneself with charity (Love), what is referred to is actually an internal process—an inward change. Charity—Love—comes from within a person. Merely going through the actions of loving others, will have a limited effect on the world. To honestly cultivate genuine love for others opens our minds so that we—like the messianic figure of Isaiah’s prophecy—do not judge by appearances. Instead we open ourselves upon to the spirit of wisdom and a greater probability of judging righteously.
This internal, spiritual process can enlighten our minds—even when we are dealing with those who threaten us, harm us or unjustly use us.
“…make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten you, according to the voice of the Spirit which is in you, and all things shall work together for your good.” (Doctrine & Covenants 105:40)
The Peaceable Kingdom envisioned by Isaiah will come about with the Advent of Christ’s Light in our hearts.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
How narrow or broad is your idea of “Peace?”
How has your idea of “Peace” changed during the course of your life? What things have influenced that change?
Can the “Peace” envisioned in scripture be imposed by outside forces—even by God? If your answer is “yes”—why? If your answer is “no”—why?
SHARING FOOD FOR THOUGHT: In your conversations with three different family members or friends bring up this question:
How is Peace related to Justice? How is it related to Love?
Don’t argue; don’t attempt to convince or convert one another to any particular idea. Just discuss your thoughts openly and honestly. Seek to understand one another first and then try to make sure your ideas are understood. The objective is to create a bond between yourself and the other person in which such ideas can be expressed openly and without fear; in which each person can be true to what they believe while still feeling respected by the other person. The objective is to strengthen the sense of community between you and others.
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