by Nathan Brown
We live in a violent, war-ravaged and divided world. Violent conflict is a significant cause of injustice, poverty and suffering. Included in the costs of war are the direct victims and shattered lives, the attention and resources devoted to military machinery that would be better diverted to alleviating other human needs, and the continuing suffering of war survivors and veterans, even among the “victors.”
The ongoing struggles experienced by veterans of the Vietnam War are perhaps the most notorious example of this. Australians were involved in the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1973, during which time 521 Australian personnel died in active service. In the three following decades, 421 “surviving” veterans are known to have committed suicide, with the suicide rate increasing decade by decade.
The figures are even more disturbing when we look at the much larger veteran population in the United States. Reports vary across the many studies that have been conducted but as early as 1979 a report from the University of Denver’s School of Professional Psychology concluded that “more Vietnam veterans have died since the war by their own hand than were actually killed in Vietnam.”
And the suicide statistics are simply the most extreme count of larger problems, often grouped under the generic designation of post-traumatic stress disorder. Suicide is an expression of the mental, emotional and spiritual scarring that also contributes to mental illness, homelessness, alcoholism and other drug dependencies, family breakdown and continuing physical ill-health.
Both in practice and in aftermath, there is a stark difference between being prepared to die for one’s beliefs, family or nation—“Greater love hath no man than this . . .” (see John 15:13)—and killing for one’s beliefs, family or nation. That is why the people of God are called to a different way of living, even amid the violence, warmongering and other conflict of our world. The kingdom of God, as inaugurated by Jesus, is never advanced by violence.
At the heart of the gospel of Jesus is God’s gracious and grand act of peacemaking, reconciling sinful human beings with their Creator. This is another way of understanding the plan of salvation and one that we can readily appreciate from our experiences of human relationships. And the reconciliation we receive becomes the pattern for us to be “ambassadors” for this reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5:18–21).
Even in the Old Testament writings, the concept of peace is closely linked with salvation and the gospel: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news of peace and salvation” (Isaiah 52:7*).
This gospel of peace also becomes the motivation, pattern and resource for working for peace in our violent world: “The heart that is in harmony with God is a partaker of the peace of heaven and will diffuse its blessed influence on all around. The spirit of peace will rest like dew upon hearts weary and troubled with worldly strife” (Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, page 28).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Taking this further, not only did He affirm the commandment against killing, precluding Christian support of war, He said we should not be angry or hold a grudge (see Matthew 5:21-26) and that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute (see Matthew 5:43-48), meaning that we should take active steps to seek their good.
There are many inspiring stories of people who have devoted their lives to peacemaking in world trouble spots, bringing glimpses of reconciliation and healing, and often alleviating much of the injustice and suffering these conflicts have brought. Whether working for peace between nations or between two bitter family members, Jesus said that those who do such work will be rightly described as “children of God.”
*Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation.