Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Peacemakers - Part 8

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God."
– Matthew 5:9 (NIV)
I’ve spent some time digging in to see what all is behind the above verse so that I could better understand what Jesus meant by peacemakers and sons of God. I think it is time to wrap this up and come to some conclusions. But first a review:

Part 1 was an introduction. How did I get on this topic anyway?
Part 2 started looking at definitions of the word peace.
Part 3 talked about the Social aspects of peace and peacemaking
Part 4 looked at the Spiritual side of peace
Part 5 discussed what Spiritual peace actually looks like
Part 6 we found the source of Spiritual peace
Part 7 addressed the sons of God. Who are they?

We have been in a series about the beatitudes at our church and this past Sunday’s message was about this verse. And since we usually talk about the message in our small group, I’ve had some extra focus on the verse this week.

As I was reviewing the passage during our small group I noticed the order that Jesus put the beatitudes when he was speaking:

  • Those who realize their need for him
  • Those who morn
  • Those who are gentle and lowly
  • Those who are hungry and thirsty for justice
  • Those who are merciful
  • Those whose hearts are pure
  • Those who work for peace (i.e. the peacemakers)
  • Those who are persecuted because they live for God
To me it suddenly seemed like the natural progression of spiritual growth of the believer. No one comes to Christ unless they first realize their need for Him (listed first). And the only thing listed after peacemaking is persecution.

Perhaps the stereotypical judgmental Christian somehow gets hung up at the point where they are hungry and thirsty for justice. You know, the ones who rail against all the evils of the world and tend to stomp on people along the way. In their thirst for justice often there is a serious lack of mercy.

It also makes sense when we look at peacemaking more from the spiritual side than the social side. What is the source of spiritual peace? How do people become children of God? The answer to both questions is the same, through the person of Jesus Christ. So then peacemakers are people who introduce others to Jesus, plain and simple. We cheapen peacemaking and sell it short when we think of it exclusively in terms of our social relationships.

And here’s the most beautiful thing about it: When people are accept Jesus for who he is and come to see spiritual peace, there will be a natural improvement in the social peace around them because they will change from the inside as they take on the attributes that Jesus talked about in the beatitudes. It is not an either/or thing. But if we focus only on the social side of peace we may very well miss out on the opportunities around us to introduce people to Christ, and ultimately offering them true and lasting peace.

The John Piper article referred to in Part 1 points out that Jesus consistently avoided commentary on political issues and continually redirected those kind of questions back to the core personal issues of the people asking the questions. Piper addresses the question aren’t these personal issues insignificant compared to all the international issues that affect millions of people around the globe? Here’s his answer:
The answer is no, because the point of these personal issues in the Sermon on the Mount is to make crystal clear that every individual within the hearing of my voice must become a new creature if you are to have eternal life. You must have a new heart. Without a merciful, pure, peacemaking heart you cannot be called a son of God at the judgment day. And that is the truly weighty matter in the world today.

The episode with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq recently got me looking at this in the first place. Based on what I’ve discovered through looking at all this, I’d say that they seem to be more merciful than peacemakers. They don’t want the enemies of the US and her allies to be hurt. That certainly doesn’t make them wrong by any means. Mercy is a tremendously good thing.

But their efforts seem to be more about stopping US & western military action than about bringing spiritual peace to people. And that seems to miss the mark what I’ve learned that working for peace to be all about.



Dan Trabue said...

Well Chris, I was right with you through the first half of this essay. I think it an incredibly insightful thought that the beatitudes represent a progression.

However, you began losing me with Piper's suggestion that, "Jesus consistently avoided commentary on political issues..."

Jesus began his ministry with a provocative political message that he'd come to bring Good News to the poor, liberty for the captives (in a day when many if not most prisoners were political prisoners), health care for the sick and the Day of Jubilee - the great day of returning land back to original owners and removing it from the hands of those who'd accumulated wealth!

Holy poop! What a political message! (Not that I think he was trying to be political, but rather that God's concern for peace and justice cuts right across human policy.)

Then you went on and got it wrong (or so it seems to me) on the CPTs: "They don’t want the enemies of the US and her allies to be hurt."

Their efforts are not about stopping the enemies of the US from getting hurt - their efforts are about making peace where there is war. They strive to devote "the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war," according to their mission statement.

Is there mercy involved, in placing themselves between warring factions and the innocent? Sure, but I'd say it's wayyyy more than just that.


Chris Cree said...

Jesus quoted that scripture you refer to from Isaiah to announce his identity as the expected messiah in a way that could not be mistaken by the people he was talking to at the time. Everything he referred to was very personal, prisoners set free of bondage of sin, restoring sight to the blind, etc.

If Jesus was about political intervention, why did he refuse to resist Rome as the messiah was expected to? That is the whole reason why the religious leadership of the day didn’t recognize him for who he was. They thought the Messiah was all about political activism. Jesus effectively said that restoration of personal relationships had priority.

Oh, and I apologize for taking so long to respond. I’ve been slack and have no excuse.

Dan Trabue said...

"I’ve been slack and have no excuse."

Hey, you had some serious lawn care to take care of - it's okay!

"If Jesus was about political intervention, why did he refuse to resist Rome as the messiah was expected to?"

Because the Messiah was expected to resist militarily, and that's not the sort of messiah Jesus is. He did resist Rome but he did so in his third way, Not fight, not flight, but stand in non-violence against The Empire.

Think about it: Why do you think he was executed? Rome didn't go around crucifying nice guys who teach us to love everyone and pay our taxes and not resist Her power, right? Jesus was a threat to Rome and to the Religious co-conspirators with Rome.

You said:
"They thought the Messiah was all about political activism."

Just to reiterate the point - you're right that the Jews by and large didn't recognize Jesus as the Messiah but that was largely because they had been taught that the Messiah would be all about military activism.

You said:
"Everything he referred to was very personal, prisoners set free of bondage of sin"

That's the way that we've been taught, but is it possible that the church has been caught in the same trap that the religious Jewish leadership was trapped in - subservient to an Empire, spiritualizing God's teachings that ought to be taken literally "Free from bondage of sin..." so as not to be a threat to the empire? The Jews thought they were being righteous, too, they didn't think they'd sold out... could it be true?

Chris Cree said...

Well I guess we might have to just agree to disagree, then. You seem to believe that military action is somehow divorced from political will. However the classic military theorists all pretty much say that military action is simply an extension of political will. Clausewitz accurately explained this back in 1832. Or you could go back even further and read what Sun Tsu had to say about military theory. But this is totally a side issue.

To say that the Jews didn’t recognize Jesus as some political figure because they were looking for a military one is a bit silly. Military / Politics – they are of a kind. If His intentions were political, yet not military as you claim, history would have remembered him as a fool. Or more correctly not remembered Him at all.

The Gospels are pretty clear that Pilot didn’t see Jesus as a threat to his office. He saw the Jewish leadership as a threat and wanted to keep them happy. If he could keep them from making trouble and off his back by executing someone, then that was a price he was willing to pay.

But you apparently believe that Jesus was primarily a political figure when he walked on the earth. And that is so far a field from the person I see when I read scripture that I’m not sure we even have any common ground to be able to continue the discussion.

Besides being at odds with what I read in scripture, understanding Jesus as primarily a political figure reduces him to the level of say a Gandhi or Martin Luther King, great men to be sure. But it’s not exactly a task for God to come down to earth to accomplish.

Besides, if Jesus’ intentions were political then He was a pretty miserable failure. I mean getting executed and all effectively would have put an end to his chances of ever holding any political office as well as his entire movement.

Oh, wait. That’s exactly what the political leadership that killed Him thought. Perhaps killing Jesus didn’t crush His movement because He wasn’t about politics in the first place!

Dan Trabue said...

"But you apparently believe that Jesus was primarily a political figure when he walked on the earth.."

While you're probably correct that we'll just have to disagree, I'd like to clarify my point that Jesus was not political - I said, "Not that I think he was trying to be political, but rather that God's concern for peace and justice cuts right across human policy."

Jesus was not primarily a political figure/his intentions were not political, that was not my point. Jesus was/is primarily the son of God.

But, God's concern/love for humanity has political ramifications. "Political" in the sense of being, "Of and/or relating to policies."

As I said, scripturally, Jesus' words can hardly be taken any way other than having a political impact unless our preachers/teachers have chosen to spiritualize Jesus teachings to the point that they are near-meaningless. Are you familiar with the Year of Jubilee concept that is present throughout the Bible?

If Jesus' teachings weren't taken to have political implications - why do you think the Jews and Romans killed him? Yes, Pilate found nothing wrong with Jesus in person - but he realized Jesus' teachings were a disruption to his gov't and he made the political decision to kill him. Gov'ts don't kill people for being sweet and kind. Never have.

Chris Cree said...

But which did Jesus prioritize – the political or the spiritual?

And yes, I am familiar with Jubilee. It primarily dealt with the cancellation debts, as I recall. Seems to me to be more of an economic issue than a political or overtly "spiritual" one. I’m not sure how it applies to our discussion about peacemakers and politics here.

Dan Trabue said...

Economic policies are political policies, and we were talking about Jesus and politics.

And yes, the Jubilee policies cancelled debts, freed those in debtor prison and returned land to the original owners - in an effort to be sure that the wealthy didn't get too wealthy and the poor too poor.

As far as what did Jesus emphasize - political or spiritual, that may be one place where we part ways. Many modern churches and churchmembers would answer "spiritual," saying Jesus was concerned about our everlasting soul.

I and my type of christian say there is no separation. Our actions/policies are our spirituality. There is no separation between our soul and the actions we take.

Or, as Keith Green says about the parable of the sheep and the goats, the only difference between the sheep and the goats is what they did and didn't do.

Or maybe we don't differ on that, you tell me.


Chris Cree said...

Finally we get down through to the nut of the issue.

Since you can’t see any difference between the political and the spiritual it makes sense that you would have no issue with a political activist organization like the CPT calling themselves missionaries.

What confuses me is why you feel compelled to debate and “defend” them all over the web when people like me point out that they are more political than missionary. If to your mind they are one and the same, why would you care that folks point it out? I would think you would just be content with our apparent ignorance.

Or is it that you feel pointing it out somehow marginalizes them and therefore must be countered?

Are they interrelated? Sure. But to say “there is no separation” and implying is “they are the same” and then throw economics in to boot is either incredibly naïve, or simply a debating technique to allow a change of ground whenever you start to loose traction.

Oh, yes. And with that Keith Green comment. I am familiar with the song. How ‘bout we review the piece of scripture from Matt. 25 that he goes through in it to find out which things Jesus thought were important to do?

In that passage Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Hmm… They all look like personal one-on-one things to me. Nothing at all about political activism or getting in the way of government policies.

Its not just that the “sheep” did something and the “goats” didn’t do something. What mattered was what they did, which is exactly what Keith Green said. Go figure.

But then when pieces of scripture (or even songs about scripture) are taken out of context they can be twisted to mean whatever.

Its an age old tactic that doesn’t work here. Kind of like throwing in side issues in order to divert attention from the original discussion (can you say Jubilee?) doesn’t work either.

Thanks for making my very first, original point which got this whole thing started.

You have completely convinced me that the CPT is a political organization not a missionary one.

Good job!

Dan Trabue said...

"I and my type of christian say there is no separation. Our actions/policies are our spirituality."

This is what I said. Not that the CPT is a political organization, but a missionary one whose mission is to follow in the steps of Jesus, to be peacemakers as we were taught.

The fact that you view such to be political is how you wish to interpret it, but for us, our actions are our missions/our spirituality. We're not worried that it might be called political by some, it is living the Gospel of Jesus by God's grace.

Chris Cree said...

And that, my friend, is why we disagree.

Thanks for staying with me for the duration. Pretty amazing that we stared our conversation nearly a month ago, isn’t it?