Watching slices of real-time video journalism pouring out of Iraq, it's hard to know whether to feel triumphant or saddened, confident or frightened. Knowing that the images that are being seen in Europe and the Arab world are different, producing a whole other world of feelings in their viewers reminds me that there is no agreement about what is actually happening there.
Even when we all see the same image - as happened when the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in Baghdad - the perception of what was happening can be different.
Reporters have noted that the war is as much about winning hearts and minds through these images as it has been about winning battles and gaining military control of a region. It would seem that a great many hearts and minds will need to be changed before true, lasting peace can come.
The view of peace found in the Bible offers a perspective on how it is attained. In the Scriptures, peace doesn't depend upon the triumph of any one human ideal. It's not something that is negotiated between people but something that God has given us. These two verses come to mind: "Lord, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us" (Isa. 26:12), and "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end" (Jer. 29:11).
This understanding of peace as God-derived greatly helped a friend of mine when she felt she might become the victim of cultural misunderstanding. She was living in Saudi Arabia, making an effort to dress and act in a way that wouldn't offend anyone.
One day she got into what she thought was the car she'd called from a car service and found herself being driven into the desert by a man who didn't see her as a respectful visitor but rather as an unwelcome intruder in his country. As they sped away from her intended destination, she tried to persuade the man to return her to town, but either he could not or would not understand her words. His face, which my friend could see in the rearview mirror, grew dark with an emotion that frightened her.
Though feeling panic rising within, my friend did what she had done so many times in the past when she was in need. She turned wholeheartedly to God. She sat there, striving to focus on the things that she had learned about the nature of God and man through her study of Christian Science.
Thoughts of God's love, His ever-presence, man's relation to God as His creation, governed and cared for by Him, began adding up, and she saw a very different image of the man driving the car. In this spiritual sense he was not filled with the willfulness or hate she had seen with her eyes; he was truly God's own child, the servant of divine Love.
She felt herself growing calmer, and suddenly the man spun the car around and drove her back to where she lived. He stopped at the gate, brusquely told her to get out, and then drove off. My friend had no doubt that it was the change in her thought, reflecting the love of God, that changed the man's intentions.
In the textbook of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "This material world is even now becoming the arena for conflicting forces. On one side there will be discord and dismay; on the other side there will be Science and peace.... Belief is changeable, but spiritual understanding is changeless" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" pg. 96).
In the midst of conflict, there is more than meets the eye. We can pray - listen - for God's thoughts, which express the essential and true nature of us all, and trust them to guide our experience. We can get beyond the images and even beyond what we think they may mean to the deeper truth that we are all inseparable from His love.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
and he inclined unto me,
and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit,
out of the miry clay, and set
my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth.