Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
In a world of violence, followers of Christ should strive to be peacemakers. This is hard in a society like the United States that romanticizes militaristic strength and esteems violence, but we should strive to follow Christ’s example nonetheless.
Despite often failing to do so in their actions, Christians at least give lip service to Jesus’ example of giving to the poor, being humble, and forgiving others, but nonviolence—and truly loving our enemies, not just tolerating those we dislike—is rarely acknowledged. In fact, in recent decades the vast majority of American Christians have notably supported various wars, armed interventions, and combative foreign policies.
The history of the world has shown us that this is pretty normal behavior for humanity, and that survival, power, and conquest requires violence. But Christians are called to follow a higher King, and help implement a counter-cultural kingdom.
Before engaging or endorsing any violent action we should ask ourselves a few important questions:
- Is God calling me to do this?
As you may have noticed, the question isn’t “Will God allow me to do this?” This distinction is important because while many Christians will spend days debating, praying, and seeking guidance about such things as career changes, pursuing relationships, and whether or not they should buy or sell a house, it’s shocking how few Christians give the same amount of thought and reflection towards condoning violence, or even murder. Think about it: before our nation drops another bomb or sends more people off to war, have we really, seriously, aggressively sought the will of God?
Think about it: before our nation drops another bomb or sends more people off to war, have we really, seriously, aggressively sought the will of God?
- Is this person (are these people) made in the image of God?
Before we act violently toward someone, we must seriously ask ourselves whether or not they’re loved by God and made in God’s image. Having a paradigm shift that sees everyone in this light changes everything.
Using international conflict again as an example, are we seeing people as God views them? Beyond the fact that we’re probably hurting our brothers and sisters in Christ, are we also robbing people of their worth? A news headline might read, “Bombing Kills 20 Syrians” but how would you feel if it read “Bombing Kills 20 Individuals Deeply Loved by God and Created In God’s Own Image”?
- What Would Jesus Do?
Ask yourself, honestly: is this—any form of violence—what you think Jesus would do? This question should be asked about nearly everything in life, but how much more important is it in relationship to violence—especially when the loss of life is at stake?
Despite Jesus’ nonviolent response to his enemies at nearly every turn, critics of pacifism point out the irrational and illogical nature of upholding such a doctrine—while simultaneously having no qualms about Jonah being swallowed by a whale, the sea being parted, water being turned into wine, and worshiping a man who died and rose from the dead in three days. Do Christians only believe in supernatural miracles and divine power as long as it doesn’t involve nonviolently loving our enemies?
Pursuing peace is often absurd. There’s little reward in terms of financial gain or fame, and there’s much to lose—including your life. It’s not the Christian pacifists who go down in history as being famous, or receive medals of valor, or have parades thrown in their honor. No, loving your enemy and turning the other cheek is usually a relatively thankless endeavor.
It’s especially hard to be a nonviolent peacemaker when you’re threatened, brutally victimized by a ruthless oppressor, or facing death. Who can blame anyone for acting in self-defense, or protecting their friends and family, or wanting to seek revenge for the unjust loss of a loved one?
Within these circumstances the armchair theology of Christian pacifism seems unattainably foolish. This is when we realize that only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we achieve such strength and love—that following Jesus requires divine power, not the power of the world, divine power which God has bestowed upon us.
Because although we know that Jesus chose the nonviolent path even when he had superior strength (Matthew 26:53) or was afraid (Luke 22:42), Christ obeyed the will of his Father despite logic, reason, and rationale—and so should we.
Whether or not you believe Christians are called to be nonviolent peacemakers, one thing is certainly clear: the early church certainly seemed to believe it. Most of the disciples were eventually martyred, and Scripture seems to notably detail Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7) as being similar to the death of Jesus. Members of the early church were persecuted and put to death in the most horrific ways imaginable. Despite all of this, a violent narrative originating from the very earliest Christ-followers is surprisingly absent. Instead of violence, their resistance was fueled by love, both a love for God and a love for others—and Christianity flourished throughout the globe.
Instead of violence, their resistance was fueled by love, both a love for God and a love for others—and Christianity flourished throughout the globe.
The point of peacemaking isn’t just to avoid violence, but rather to radically bring about peace. This is what Christ does: he brings peace. May God give us the supernatural strength and courage to be peacemakers, to love God and love our neighbors—even our enemies—as we would ourselves. May we be brave enough to follow Jesus—the Prince of Peace.
Stephen Mattson is the author of The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ.