As we watched again the powerful movie Lincoln, I was particularly moved by one scene where President Lincoln rides slowly through a still smoldering battlefield. Everywhere he looks, the bodies of soldiers are tumbled together, a horrific grey and blue sculpture of death and destruction. I wept.
It was just after the Civil War that the commemoration of Memorial Day began. Memorial Day was instituted because people wanted to remember the fallen soldiers from both the North and the South. But this time of memorial also forces us to remember our warring madness and the horrible fact that in these years, 750,000 fellow Americans had killed one another.
This was also around the same time that Julia Ward Howe initiated a Mother’s Peace Day observance. Too many mothers, too many grandmothers had lowered their bright, brave sons into graves. Too many mothers had wept in the night and still ached with each morning’s light. “Enough is enough,” they said. Julia Howe’s call for peace is now our annual Mothers’ Day celebration but it began in 1870 as a way to remember the weeping of mothers and the waste of war.
On the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, on the day before he carried his old rugged cross up the hillside, he wept. Not for himself, but for all those who turned their backs on the peace he offered and who instead – as people will do – turned to violence. Jesus saw clearly how this sin against shalom destroys the soul of a person. And so, Jesus took up his cross and walked right into the violence, bearing its burden and thus breaking its power by his own self-giving.
Even though the texts of Joshua and Judges represent an understanding of God-ordained, God-ordered violence, there is and always has been an alternative biblical vision of who God is and therefore, who the people of God should be.
- A counter-cultural witness embedded in Scripture tells a story of the God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34, Nehemiah 9, Psalms 86, 103, 145).
- A counter-cultural witness calls the people of God to turn away from violence and live in harmony: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19).
It is only when we read Scripture through this kind of alternative lens that we can re-read, re-frame, re-consider what is truly true for our believing and for our living.
Brian McLaren admits (as we must) that even though, throughout history, people of faith have perpetuated violence in God’s name, Jesus Christ has created a new way by showing us God’s way of peace.
In God’s name Jesus would undergo violence, and in so doing, overcome it. And that was why…Jesus spoke of suffering, death, and resurrection as a different kind of strategy for a different kind of victory.
Because of Jesus we have tangible insight into the nature of God and the essence of community that earlier people of God did not have. When we read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, we do not have to be obligated to ancient, limited understandings. When we read the Old Testament in light of Jesus Christ, we are freed up to be the people of the Christ.
It is in Christ that we see God’s will truly done on earth as it is in heaven. It is in Christ that we see God’s authentic character demonstrated and embodied.
And what Jesus the Christ demonstrates is this:
turn the other cheek,
do unto others as you would have them do unto you,
die to yourselves,
live in shalom.
A few years ago Brite Divinity School created an important new ministry called Soul Repair. The Soul Repair Center’s vision and work is to support our solders’ recovery from moral injury. Moral injury is different from post-traumatic stress disorder; different from a psychological, emotional injury. Moral injury is a spiritual wound; it is violence done to a person’s deeply held values; it is the breaking of personal promises; it is the betrayal of strong convictions.
“War is hell,” they say, and those who have borne the battle have surely lived for a while in hell. They have seen and heard and experienced horrors most of us cannot fathom. They have had to do things they never imagined they could do. They have been forced to make choices they can scarcely believe they have made. The souls of our soldiers are violated by this our perpetual human violence against shalom. Soul Repair seeks their healing.
Still today, there are far too many people who do not recognize the saving, healing work of God. There are still far too many people who turn away and do not recognize the things that make for peace.
In Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, he urged us:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
These words make me weep. Not just because they are so beautiful but because we have not yet learned how to achieve and cherish just and lasting peace.
There is so much injury, so much misery in our human family. Mothers have lost their sons; soldiers have lost their limbs; too many have lost their way. Surely God Almighty weeps. Jesus wept. May we weep as well.
And may we repent.
Let us repent of the ways we turn away because of our own complacency and refusal to change our culture and economy of war. Let us repent of the violence that destroys God’s children and defeats God’s peace. Let us repent of the ways we imagine God is on our side instead of beseeching God to bring us to the side, to the work of the Holy One.
And may we be bold and courageous to take up our cross and – following Jesus – walk right into the brokenness of the world. May we be a part of binding up the wounds of God’s people. May each of us individually and all of us together become part of “the things that make for peace.”
Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. (FaithWords: 2014).
Soul Repair Center http://brite.edu/academics/programs/soul-repair/