Thursday, Second Week of Advent
December 10, 2009

"The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them." -- Isaiah 11:6

The Imperatives of a Just Peace

Did you hear President Obama's speech in acceptance of the Nobel Peace prize today? For someone with a peace prize hanging around his neck, he acknowledged the irony of his recent decision to send an extra 30,000 troops into war in Afghanistan. For someone receiving the same award as ML King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, he acknowledged that his role of being a statesman as different from that of a prophet. The statesman has responsibility to defend the state first, and consider the will of God for the world somewhere further down the line.

We are all challenged by the themes of Obama's speech: we all live in this real world of aggression, where the powerful tend to take advantage of those without as much power and voice. But we all also like to think of ourselves as just and moral people who long for peace to be real in our world. Obama is suggesting that institutions like the United Nations and NATO and international law and treaties governing nuclear proliferation are signs of the hope that we are moving toward peace sustained by justice.

But that's true only if we submit our will to a structure that has jurisdiction over us. That's true only if we are willing to submit to the dictates of an international court, or take the lead on setting aside our substantial nuclear arsenal, or abide by the decisions of a war crimes tribunal that may call into question a war decision by US governmental or military officials. And suddenly we get a little nervous, and say, we'll rely on our good American sense to do the right thing with our power and influence.

If you google Obama's theologian, you will find all kinds of hits on the 20th century American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr and his influence on Obama's viewpoint of "Christian realism." The Niebuhrian realistic viewpoint is this: "suspect thyself." Be suspicious of your ability to do the just thing with respect to your neighbor especially when it requires some sacrifice or inconvenience on your part.

Obama is hopeful about moving in the direction of a world where human rights are valued, and people live in security and have the things we all need for life, and there is a just society which shares with each other out of our abundance according to another's need. And in that situation of course, there is no need for war. In that situation, we have indeed arrived at a just peace. But how do we get the wolf to live in close proximity with the lamb without thinking... hmmm... roasted or grilled?

If we are Niebuhrian realists, we might recognize our inability, collectively and individually, to create such a just society even here in America where we do have courts to which we submit, and mechanisms for checks and balances in our self-governing. Even with those institutions in place and fully functioning, those with power have discovered how to manipulate the system to their advantage, and those without power lose what little they have. So what is our hope for moving toward peace?

A little child is coming into our world who knows only the way of a just peace. A force of love who will take us by the hand and lead us into a place of equality, not just a place where we know the words that sounds good, but a place where our actual desire is, as Obama put it so eloquently, "enlightened self-interest," believing that our lives will be better if our neighbors can also live in freedom and prosperity. Let us put our trust, not in this head of state, but in this King of all Life, who makes of this world, a brotherhood and a sisterhood.

--Jeff McArn