It is war that is the focus of this year’s Christian Aid week, that most preventable of disasters. Or rather it is its aftermath. The human misery that follows behind it. The misery that follows, not sometimes but always.
I am in a minority among Christians in being a pacifist. The Hebrew Scriptures have only small inklings that war is not going to solve anything. I think of the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, and of Esau’s generosity to the brother who wronged him, and Jacob’s remarkable declaration that seeing his brother’s face is like seeing the face of his God. How hard it is to forgive those whom we have wronged. I think, too, of the remarkable little story of Elisha telling the King of Israel not to kill the Syrians who he has delivered into his hands.
It is only when we get to the New Testament that we find a radical demand that we suffer ourselves, rather than attack others, or even defend ourselves. Yet, as with so much that Jesus says, it is ambiguous enough that most Christians in most places have felt justified in ignoring it and making wars.
Embracing peace is a hard thing. I realised fairly young that it was bound to mean suffering in the short term. It was only as I grew older, learned more, thought more, prayed more, that I came think that however dear the short-term cost, the long term benefits were greater. As a girl I chose peace as a blind act of faith. Now I think that violence so inevitably leads to more violence and to greater wrongs, that it is almost never justified. Only in the most exceptional of circumstances is war the lesser evil, and I cannot think of an instance during my life time when it has led to anything but more misery and greater wrong.
Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the focus of this year’s Christian Aid appeal. It is tempting to think the disasters are so huge than it is pointless taking action. Action, help, is never pointless. It is not however enough. We have a duty to the world to live peace and to speak peace. Love and forgiveness, however sorely we are tried, have to become our watch words. War is not the solution, whatever the problem. We have to absorb that fact so thoroughly that it becomes part of our immediate reaction.
This must be our reaction not just to international conflicts, but to personal loss and personal challenge. This of course is where it is hardest. We live in a society where a desire for revenge is still seen as right and proper, and it takes a lot of courage and often a lot of presence of mind not to get sucked into that way of thinking and acting. Yet if we are ever to change the world, if we are ever to see the Kingdom, we need to work at it, so that peace always becomes the right and the natural response, despite its high cost.