The deaths of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped on their way home from school last week have led not just to a major outcry but also to reprisals against the Palestinian people because the specific killers have not been captured. The murder of a Palestinian teenager has added to the sorrow and distrust in both camps. In a part of the world that is already supercharged with tension and war, the challenge posed by these circumstances needs the attention of all who pray for peace.
First, our hearts go out to the families who lost their young men. Prayer can go out to them, to comfort all who mourn. It has been pointed out many times that the root of “comfort” is “with strength,” and prayer can affirm the presence of spiritual and mental strength to trust God and to reject immediately, or as soon as possible, feelings of hatred and the desire for revenge.
Hatred and revenge argue on the side of retaliation, and anyone who responds to those suggestions is wittingly or unwittingly being used by evil to perpetuate suffering and misery. On the other hand, resisting such temptations does much to shift the balance toward good, toward the reign of divine law instead of the chaos and despair that a mortal sense of existence claims to include.
A wonderful example of how such resistance can change outcomes is illustrated by Jesus’ experience when officials came to arrest him before he was crucified. One of his disciples used a sword to cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, but Jesus healed the man and told the disciple, “Put up again thy sword ... for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52). At that moment, Jesus was already allying himself with the forces of good, the power of God that would ultimately save not just him but all humanity.
Obviously, none of us is Jesus, but each individual who desires peace and who rises above evil’s destructive temptations can take his example as proof that good is possible, that such sacrifices of personal will can begin to change the course of events. Hatred and anger seem understandable, but these emotions cannot bring peace or justice to the situation. In “God Has A Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time,” Desmond Tutu writes about the harassment that black South Africans had to endure under apartheid – the arrests, injustices, and imprisonment. He described a visit he had with one of the men who endured such treatment: “He said that during his frequent stints in detention, when the security police routinely tortured him, he used to think, ‘These are God’s children and yet they are behaving like animals. They need us to help them recover the humanity they have lost’ ” (p. 51).
The example set by this man and by many black South Africans became sufficient to transform their nation. Such examples show how individuals can ally themselves with good – and make a difference – even in the face of what seems like implacable evil.
In any long-running conflict, such as the one in South Africa and this one in the Middle East, all sides may have had losses of spiritual vision, of love, and certainly of peace and respect for each other. Yet these losses cannot be permanent, because in truth all of us are the children of God, the image of God who is Spirit, divine good. And as such all of us really do have intelligence, strength to do right, wisdom, and love for others, all of which are needed for reconciliation.
The power to restore relationships and make progress toward permanent peace comes not from weakness or fear, but from the courage to see that love is more than an emotion. Love is actually the nature of God, who is Love itself, and the omnipotence of divine Love is able to impart and enforce true peace in our thoughts and our hearts. This isn’t just “feeling friendly” love; this is “warrior” love – and the battle isn’t about people but about standing firm in the face of evil and having the spiritual strength to resist its destructive temptations and trust God’s transforming power. Those who express this love do not stand alone. Through their examples, all who have stood for truth before them stand with them. And ultimately divine Truth is the power supporting all efforts for justice.
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