Negotiations between the Irish Republican Army and government authorities continue to be rocky. Having lived in the Republic of Ireland and had friends in Northern Ireland, I've been much aware of the deep-seated distrust that exists, especially among the more radical groups. This distrust rests on centuries of misunderstanding and betrayal - of warring egos refusing to come together for fear of loss, of wounded pride, and because of both real and perceived injuries.
This situation reminds me of the Bible's story of Joseph and his brothers (see Gen., chaps. 37-45). Jealous of Joseph, his brothers felt that if they could just get rid of him they would have peace. But when they thought they had succeeded, they found that peace still eluded them.
Joseph, in the meantime, was perhaps depending more on, and becoming closer to, God than he ever had. This helped him when the time came for reconciliation. Finding joy in the goodness of God, he helped his brothers feel that joy, too.
The spiritual journey that reconciled Joseph and his brothers took many years, but by the end, it had blessed people far beyond his immediate family. This offers much encouragement as we follow what amounts to Northern Ireland's spiritual journey toward peace. Even in the darkest times of his life as a slave in Egypt, Joseph kept trusting God, and God sustained him. And the same God is sustaining people today.
Another thing that offers an answer to discouragement is to consider that God's purpose for us is peace. This peace is, according to the words of Jesus, present and available to everyone who is willing to receive it (see John 14:27). In a very real sense, omnipresent and omnipotent Love is impelling us toward peace.
In other words, even though hatred and distrust may seem to have built a huge dam that can block peace, the reality is that divine Love is an unstoppable river. No matter how high that dam may look, it is inevitable that the river will overflow and then wash away the resistance. In fact the book of Isaiah includes this promise from God, speaking in relation to Jerusalem: "I will extend peace to her like a river ..." (66:12). All who desire peace can drink from this river by learning more about God.
Even just affirming the reality of God's power is a contribution toward the peace process. And we don't need to wonder how that peace will come. In my own life I've had experiences where prayer has revealed some very unexpected solution when things were at an impasse. We need to be open to what might be called "unexpected good" or divine inspiration.
At the same time, we can specifically trust that God, who is Love, will open the heart of each negotiator, and his or her colleagues, so that real understanding can be reached. Love dissolves distrust and gives us the compassion to help people get beyond the anger or fear they are struggling with. Through these forward steps, peace becomes more and more inevitable.
The Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote: "The understanding that the Ego is Mind, and that there is but one Mind or intelligence, begins at once to destroy the errors of mortal sense and to supply the truth of immortal sense.... The great mistake of mortals is to suppose that man, God's image and likeness, is both matter and Spirit, both good and evil" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 216). This statement gives a new basis for evaluating both sides in the conflict. Instead of thinking of individuals or groups as "both good and evil," we can pray to know that spirituality and goodness are the only true motivating forces of everyone. This is because of the way God has made everyone - good (see Gen. 1:26, 27, 31). Recognizing good in others, and accepting no less, brings out the higher nature of each individual. When people are thought of as good and are treated lovingly, it is much more difficult for them to resort to violence. Love disarms hatred.
Everyone would like peace to come immediately. But even when the process is a long one, peace is as inevitable as the rising of the sun. It is as unstoppable as the flowing of a river. The river of Love refreshes everything it touches and washes away the stains and troubles of the past.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society