“They have treated my people’s brokenness superficially, claiming, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14
Despite all the noise and clamor of 2020, two words seem to cut through public discourse right now: Justice and Peace. While these are great words, they’re often shouted in isolation from either side of the political aisle. Some cry for justice, while others cry out for peace—and both for good reason. Injustice plagues our justice system, and chaos fills our streets. We have a deep need for justice and a desperate longing for peace. I believe that’s because these two states are inseparably connected. So long as we lack justice, we will lack peace.
Many are wondering why things felt so peaceful for so long. Did something change? Why are chaos and discord front and center now more than ever? I actually don’t think it is. I believe the chaos that has filled our most vulnerable communities throughout our country’s history has finally started to bleed into our more affluent neighborhoods—and we don’t like it. Our country has never truly experienced peace because our country has never truly known justice. The problem is that many have been able to insulate themselves from the pain and chaos of others. Until now.
The prophet Jeremiah said that the people of God, who were living unjustly, tried to address their sin superficially (as Eugene Peterson puts it, “They tried to put a bandaid on it”). And they cried “Peace! Peace!” but there wasn’t any true peace. People continued to be exploited, abused, and mistreated, while the wealthy and powerful went about their business in environments that felt “peaceful.” Eventually, their injustice caught up to them. The wealthy and powerful in Israel became the poor and powerless in Babylon. When peace is withheld from anyone, it is eventually removed from everyone.
Several centuries later, Israel was in a place much like we find ourselves in today. They were aching for peace, but unable to find it. It was in the midst of that ache that John the Baptist’s dad spoke a word of hope. He said (of his son),
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
He says the Gospel of Jesus will be like a sunrise for people who have been waiting in the dark. It will shine a light on the hope of God’s future, and it will illuminate the pathway towards that future hope. The Gospel is good news that God’s promise to renew all things has been secured through the finished work of Jesus. But it is also the good news that, through the life and example of Jesus, the pathway towards renewal has been blazed and marked for us. In other words, the hope of God’s promise is secure, the path is made visible, and the strength needed for the journey has been supplied.
Or so you would think.
Many people didn’t find this to be good news at all.
Some thought the pathway to peace was all about “peace-keeping.” They thought, “Things aren’t so bad, let’s not rock the boat.” Those were the religious elite. They had made some pretty sweet deals with the Roman authorities. In short, they got paid a pretty penny in exchange for keeping the peace between the Hebrew people and the occupying Roman authorities. These folks got riled up over Jesus’ message because they were afraid that his insufferable concern for the poor and vulnerable would lead to an uprising against the Roman authorities who were marginalizing his people.
Others thought the pathway to peace came through revolution. They thought, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” The vast majority of Hebrews were marginalized by the occupying Roman authorities, and naturally, they wanted their autonomy back. Every so often, someone (typically claiming to be the Messiah) would lead a band of rebels against the Romans, and their efforts were met with varying degrees of success. Some would get closer to freedom than others. Still, all their stories basically ended the same way: the Romans put down the revolution, imprisoned members of the revolt, and crucified their leaders. Crucifixion was a public execution used by the Romans to strike fear into the hearts of the Hebrew people, a way of saying, “This is what happens when you try to stand against the empire.”
So, on the one hand, you had a group of comfortable “peace-keepers” trying not to upset the status quo (crying “peace, peace, when there is no peace”). On the other hand, you had a group of marginalized people fighting for justice and hoping for a violent reversal of power. Both groups saw the way of Jesus as a threat to their cause. In their view, his message—and his call to follow him—was anything but good news. In a strange turn of events, these mortal enemies joined forces to crucify the Son of God. The rich leveraged their power to manipulate the courts (structural injustice). The poor leveraged their collective voice to exchange the life of Christ for Barabas, a leader who aligned more closely with their militaristic means (influence through a mass-movement).
Barabas ended up on the streets, and Christ ended up on a cross. The pathway to peace was rejected by mankind. But in the mystery of God’s plan, Christ’s faithfulness to the pathway of peace was sufficient to secure peace for all of us for all of eternity. In His resurrection from the dead, God began his work of renewal, starting with his treasured creatures—you and me. Today, through the power of God in us, because of Christ’s faithfulness, we have a second chance to pursue peace in the world. How? By following Jesus as He guides our feet into the way of peace.
What does that pathway look like?
Jesus’ heart bled for the poor and powerless. He was relentlessly committed to justice. But he rejected the sword. His vision for peace came through the pursuit of justice in the way of love. Faith in God, hope in the future, and love for all; these are the signposts that point us down the path of peace—the signposts that let us know we’re on the right trail, that we haven’t gotten lost in our pursuit.
Our country is groaning under the pains of injustice. Black lives are treated as inferior to white lives. Sometimes this is explicit and personal. Other times the mistreatment is systemic and structural. Some are trying to keep the peace. They have a lot on the line. Whether we want to admit it or not, much has been gained on the backs of our black brothers and sisters. At the same time, there are others whose vision for freedom comes by the sword. They have lost hope in non-violent resistance. The attempts of Dr. King seem to have failed, and they’ve turned to another way.
Our neighbors need Christians to walk faithfully in the way of Jesus down the path of peace. They need us to offer a vision of peace and hope. They need us to keep our eyes on the margins of society, upholding justice and equity for all people—and they need all of this held together by the radical, self-giving love of Christ.
These times are hard, but don’t lose heart. God started this work, and he will complete it. Keep moving forward—he’s in it with us.