This is the second in my ‘Power of a lyric’ series of posts, where I take a line of a song that has influenced me in my life and expand on its meaning and relevance for today. This lyric is from the late Larry Norman’s The Great American Novel.
‘Do you really think the only way to bring about the peace is to sacrifice your children and kill all your enemies?’ – Larry Norman, The Great American Novel
Many people say that those who stand for peace are naïve; that the idea of not retaliating is to have your head in the sand and not in the real world. It is seen as hopelessly idealistic. These people need to get their head out of the clouds. As Brian McLaren says, “It is not a matter of naïve ignorance about the power of evil or of deluded romanticism about the good heart of the enemy; it is rather a loss of naivete about the power of violence to cure violence. It is a dose of realism about the futility of seeking security through ‘living by the sword’ (Matt 26:52)” (Everything Must Change, p. 189).
As Barack Obama this week discusses the reduction of the world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, we are reminded that the ones who are really naïve are those who believe that war will bring about peace. History is littered with the carnage of what war has brought. Conflicts sometimes rage for hundreds of years. Just take the Middle East or Bosnia as a couple of examples. And in the last 100 years we have seen the Troubles in Northern Ireland. You could probably name other wars and conflicts that seemingly have no end.
Martin Luther King reminded the world that violence only begets violence and hate begets hate. Just this week, on 21 September, the world was reminded again of the United Nations International Day of Peace. As part of the commemoration of the day, my wife and I saw a movie called The Day After Peace. This movie is the story of Jeremy Gilley’s attempts at launching an international day where the guns of the world would be laid down for just a day, a day for which there would be a global ceasefire. It is an inspirational story, one with many setbacks as well as much inspiration. Check out the trailer below:
What struck me perhaps the most about Gilley’s attempts to get this movement off the ground was evidence of the enormity of what those who work for the kingdom are up against. You see, the day that the UN Secretary General was going to officially launch the International Day of Peace in New York was September 11, 2001. As the bell was about to be rung that morning signaling the launch of the Day of Peace, the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. The thought that occurs to me about this is that it seems that there was something else going on, that there is indeed a spiritual battle occurring among the principalities and powers. The day that the International Day of Peace was to be launched turned into the day that unleashed the so-called war on terror.
A revolution is indeed needed in this world, but it is a revolution of love, of a bringing in of a kingdom where its soldiers march on their knees in sacrificial care and service to the most marginalised and needy, following their master Jesus on the road to Calvary. The irony of the Gospel is that the way to life often seems like the way to death. The way of Jesus is indeed the way to death. For many that includes physical death, but for all it involves a death to self as we work out our faith with deeds of compassion, building for a kingdom in which we can imagine, as N.T. Wright has said, what it would be like if God were running the show.