Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Jesus is talking about those who have given themselves to the difficult and challenging work of making peace between individuals, families, groups and nations.
An excellent contemporary example is Nelson Mandela. When he assumed the reins of power in South Africa, he refused to be bitter toward his enemies. After 27 years of imprisonment, he refrained from any form of vindictiveness and called on all races to work together to heal the nation.
At the core of all peacemaking is a basic commitment to nonviolence. Only nonviolence can break the cycle of violence and open a door for peace. Violence can never stop violence because its very success leads others to imitate it. It’s ironic, but violence can be the most dangerous when it succeeds.
However successful we are in Afghanistan, it will not put an end to terrorism. Governments face hard decisions, but whenever violence is met with violence, it causes hate and animosity to escalate. Every terrorist we kill, and particularly every civilian that gets caught or killed in the crossfire, becomes a cause for recruitment to the terrorist agenda and increases their hatred.
Peacemakers committed to nonviolence always look for creative alternatives. There may be times in self-defense that we have to resort to force, but disciples of Jesus should always be looking for creative ways to diffuse violence and make peace, even when it involves bearing the hate without returning it – the way Jesus did on the cross.
Our society is so saturated and prone toward violence that people find it hard to believe in anything else. Many people tend to trust violence. And one has no trouble in marshaling biblical support. One can find any number of divinely sanctioned expressions of violence in the Old Testament, even divinely commissioned genocide. Jesus, however, while he certainly held his Scriptures and traditions in great respect, did not blindly accept everything in the Bible hook, line and sinker.
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Jesus exposed the lie and the deception of so-called “redemptive violence” by embodying a life of nonviolence in what he taught, how he lived and especially in the way he died. This is why the cross becomes a symbol of the gospel of peace. Jesus bore the violence of the powers that be without returning it upon them.
Peacemaking through nonviolence, however, does not involve being a “doormat.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered examples of how his followers could take nonviolent direct action against the oppressive powers. To so act involved great moral and spiritual strength and courage.
Peacemaking through nonviolence does not mean conflict avoidance. There were numerous times in the Gospels where Jesus acted in defiance of the religious authorities, thus provoking conflict. (For example, see the Sabbath controversy stories, such as those found in Mark 2:23-3:6.)
It’s ironic today that so few Christians even aspire to be peacemakers, and yet, according to Jesus, these are the ones who are living up to their title. These are the ones, says Jesus, who are truly living like children of God.