When Peace Like a River: Hope for Egypt
- Scot McKnight Author, One.Life
- 2011 14 Feb
My wife Kris and I have been glued to the television because of our concern for Egypt. We worry about mothers and fathers, children and innocents. We worry about chaos and the possibility of escalating violence that outstrips all possibility of control. We want peace. We all hope for peace.
I grew in the '60s, in a generation that used the word peace so often it lost all meaning and became lighter than a cheap paperback. We painted the peace symbol on tie-dyed t-shirts. We scrawled the word on posters and paraded through major cities. John Lennon and Janice Joplin and Joan Baez sang about it. All this overuse and misuse led to abuse. The word was used so often that it fell out of fashion in Christian circles. But peace stands tall and proud in the Bible. It’s a word we cannot lose. It is our hope.
Yet peace does not come without cost. Peace does not come just because we want it or just because we all say we’re committed to it. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Isaiah 60. Some of it’s most beautiful are these poetic lines of the kingdom:
I will make Peace your governor
and Righteousness your ruler.
No longer will violence be heard in your land,
nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation
and your gates Praise.
Isaiah’s vision is that peace will be so prevalent that the land will be run by one named Shalom. Imagine electing “Shalom” as the president. But President Peace is not alone: Peace is flanked in the cabinet by Righteousness (or Justice) and Salvation (redemptive Liberation and Freedom) and Praise. We might re-phrase: the kingdom’s cabinet is governed by Peace, by Justice, by Freedom, and by God-directedness.
But imagining the kingdom is a whole lot easier than making it happen. A world yearns for the violence to end in Egypt. The world yearns for peace -- and keeps on yearning. Why?
Because Peace is a result of doing the right thing over and over again. The only way to get Peace is to do what leads us there. Peace flows from Justice, and we will not get peace until we get justice. Oh yes, it’s easy to suppress people unjustly and mire the poor in injustices, but that kind of “calm” is not peace. It’s oppressed silence. The oppressed, though, will not be calm when they are forced into silence. The oppressed are yearning and they experience yearning as the yearning for justice, for the right thing being done to all people. In their silence they pray. In their silence they ache. In their silence they gather. In their silence they plot. They plot justice. Sadly, sometimes they plot justice through violence. But they are plotting because of their yearnings.
Years of injustices fuel the yearnings and the aches of the oppressed and silenced, but they will eventually come forth and they will eventually storm the gates. They will eventually fill the squares and ask that their voice be heard, that their injustices be undone.
When this happens there are two options: the powerful can turn on the fresh, sometimes innocent, sometimes hardened voices and ramp up the violence to silence them longer. Or the oppressors can turn themselves over to Praise and to Freedom and to Justice and to Peace. The only way this can happen is to find the deepest ethic of the entire Bible according to Jesus: Love.
There are 613 commandments and prohibitions in what we call the Old Testament. Jesus, when asked, sorted all 610 into two groups: commands to Love God and commands to Love others. Justice itself is a species of love.
Which leads me now to the only strategy that can bring a deep and lasting Peace. It works like this: we are to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Again, this is a nice idea, but it takes action to make Love real. So we are called by Jesus to act in loving ways to everyone we meet, and that means we call on our leaders -- if they want to be Peace and Justice and Freedom and Praise -- to act in love toward their people. In their laws. In their international dealings.
The oppressors will either learn to love the silenced or they will eventually be overturned, because Peace and Justice will eventually prevail. The only way the oppressors can love the silenced is to treat them as brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters gather together, share a table, and listen to one another. The “magic” only comes when we make the really hard decision to love by serving the other. When I decide to do what is best for you, and when you reciprocate by doing what is best for me, and when we end up tripping over one another to serve one another, that’s when the magic of love is unleashed and it will lead to Peace.
The order is simple: praise (love of God) and love of others leads to freedom, and freedom leads to justice, and when love and freedom and justice are all sitting at the table we can pause to listen for the sounds of peace. It will be there, and we will see what God’s vision for this world is.
The musicians of the '60s were all accused of being dreamers, and such they were. But so was Isaiah and so was Jesus. I would like to suggest that these dreams for peace will only become a reality when we realize that we get there when you and I sit down together and begin to serve one another. This is not dreaming. This is the most concrete element of life and it can begin today. The act of loving service I can give to my brothers and sisters is not utopian and it is not silly idealism. The path to peace begins with the hardest challenge I face today. It begins at home and works itself out into my community and into my world. It begins when we act in loving service to our neighbor.
Mr. Mubarak: The world waits for you to sit at table with the silenced majority, to listen to them, to treat them as your brothers and sisters, and to see that your calling is to serve. When you choose to serve, peace -- not the silence of the oppressed -- will flood the streets of Egypt.
Scot McKnight is an esteemed New Testament scholar, professor at North Park University, and proprietor of the popular Jesus Creedblog at Patheos.com. This essay was inspired by a chapter on peace in his new book, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow.