How can we coexist?


This is the 20th post in the Sermon on the Mount Series.

Bumper Stickers“Give peace a chance” “Coexist” You’ve probably seen bumper stickers with similar sentiments.

The problem is that evil is a reality that must be dealt with. Some men (or women) will seek to dominate others through force or intimidation. Even a casual investigation into the history of man provides ample evidence of this. An ever so small slice of the news is sufficient to prove the reality of evil.

One response to evil is to lash back to hurt the perpetrator of that evil. This seems to be the default response in the human heart.  This is illustrated by what Sean Connery says in the Untouchables, “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

Religious and irreligious systems have both perpetuated this response to evil. One need look no further than the Middle East for many examples of religion responding to evil in kind. But religion is not alone in this. Marxist states and other totalitarian systems are equally guilty.

It is likely that we agree on the sentiment behind these bumper stickers, by on what basis can we coexist? Where do we find the power to forgive and bring healing when evil strikes? How can evil be overcome without further violence?

To not respond in kind to evil requires a sense of delayed gratification. The one who does not respond must feel that it is better in the long run for him to let the evil go without revenge.

For the Christian, the idea that God will ultimately set everything right forms the basis on which we can turn the other cheek. Jesus goes so far as to tell us that we are blessed if we are persecuted or insulted (Matthew 5:10-11).

I am not saying that Christians are the only ones that can practice forgiveness and be peacemakers. I am also not saying that Christians have always done this well. We have struggled with this from the foundation of the Church.

I am saying that Jesus makes a compelling case as to why we should be forgiving and pursuing peace.

The struggle comes in the moment by moment decisions that need to be made. Do I complain about the boss to a coworker? Do I share a tidbit that I heard on the radio (and did not verify) about a politician with whom I do not agree? Do I use my words to build up or tear down? I have ample opportunities to practice peace making.

A couple of thoughts regarding peacemaking come to mind. First, our peacemaking should not be based on denial of the evil. Paul tells us to be angry without sinning (Eph. 4:26), thus indicating that there are legitimate reasons to be angry. The second thought is that I do not have to rely on my own strength and wisdom to be a peacemaker. Jesus promised that we would have help:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,” (John 14:15–16, ESV)

The core issue for me in being a peacemaker is whether or not I trust God enough to leave it in his hands. My failures at peacemaking indicate that often I do not have sufficient trust. But, it is growing . . .