For some months now I have been contemplating and meditating on the concept of “peace.” I guess thinking a lot about Afghanistan, the Taliban, 9/11 and all that we have been through as a nation in the last few decades has been heavy on my heart lately. So, peace has been something I have been considering.
Oftentimes when we think about peace we generally go to one of two extremes. Either we are considering peace between warring peoples, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Afghanistan-Taliban issues, or we are looking at a personal inner peace, which seems so elusive at times.
But does the Bible have any help in this matter? We read in Philippians 4 that two ladies were having some sort of interpersonal conflict. We are not told what it was about, but the Apostle Paul instructs the people of the church there at Philippi to encourage these ladies to get along. He then tells them not to worry or be anxious about anything, but to pray about everything. And if they did that, the peace of God would guard their hearts even more than they could understand (Philippians 4:2-7). So peace on the one hand is peace between individuals or nations that seem to be warring.
A great example of an attempt to remedy that issue of peace between nations is found in Northern Ireland. In that nation, there’s a city that’s so divided part of the population calls it Londonderry and others calls it Derry. In this city Protestants live on the east bank and Catholics on the west bank. If you know anything about the history of the Protestants and Catholica in Northern Ireland, you know they are not, even on the best of days, great examples of peace. Many of the residents on both sides of the river that divides the community don’t like to mix; so, one of the solutions the city fathers directed was to build a bridge. The 900-foot bridge curves like a snake and is for walkers, joggers and cyclists. They named it Peace Bridge. Crooked though it may be, that’s what they’re trying to do, build a bridge that will somehow build one community out of two and thus, build peace.
Along those same lines, there is the story of Telemachus, a monk who lived in the fifth century. Telemachus wanted to live his life in pursuit of God, so he lived alone in the desert praying, fasting and meditating. One day as he prayed, he realized his life was based on a selfish love of God, not selfless. If he were to serve God, he must serve men. He decided to return to the city where there was sin and need.
Telemachus headed for Rome. He arrived at a time when the Roman general, Stilicho, had won a great victory over the Goths. Since Rome was officially Christian, triumph brought people pouring into the churches.
But one pagan practice still lingered in Christian Rome — the gladiator games. While Christians were not thrown to the lions, prisoners of war were cast into the arena to fight and kill each other. Spectators roared with blood lust as the gladiators battled.
Telemachus arrived on the day of the games. Following the noise, he made his way to the arena where 80,000 people had gathered to celebrate. The fights began and Telemachus stood aghast. Men for whom Christ had died were about to kill each other to amuse a supposedly Christian populace.
He jumped into the arena and stood between the two gladiators, imploring them to stop. The crowd was furious at the delay of their “entertainment,” and after several shouts and threats, it stoned the monk to death. The rest of the contests were cancelled that day. Three days later Honorius, the Roman emperor, declared Telemachus a martyr and ended the gladiatorial contests.
Historian Edward Gibbon observed the following about Telemachus: “His death was more useful to mankind than his life.”
Jesus made a powerful proclamation when he said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Telemachus never claimed deity or to be the Messiah, but Jesus did and is. And he laid down his life for you and I so we could have peace. Jesus also said, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
In other words, if we want to have true peace, the only way is through Jesus Christ. Everything else is bogus, and will not last.
As well, if we want to see peace in our world today, that too is found in Christ alone. Jesus also said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
So what is the challenge for us? First of all, the challenge is to trust Jesus Christ and Christ alone for your eternal salvation. True peace begins with the individual and his or her relationship with Jesus Christ. But also, Jesus encourages each of us to be a bridge builder in a world of walls. In essence, that means we should work to bring social, economic and multiethnic shalom to our community. Shalom is not just the absence of conflict, but the presence of wholeness and harmony, life as it should be. So the questions for each of us then is: Will you be a peacemaker today?
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.