Every decade of my life has been scarred by war. It seems to me that we have a constant longing for peace and a constant reality of war.
It began for me when I was in first grade, just barely learning to read, and I used to spread the newspaper out on the living room floor, mostly to look at the pictures. I still remember one vivid scene from World War II of a US ship at sea spewing black smoke on its way to destruction. I also remember the wild celebration on VJ day, as all our neighborhood poured out of our houses in the ecstasy of knowing that the long and bloody war was finally over.
Only a few years later we had the “police action” of Korea. I recall the story Joe McCluskey, my neighbor, told of being on an LST about to land on a Korean beach and head into slaughter when word came that an armistice had been signed. Instead of dying on some far-away strip of sand, Joe came home to life and a future.
It was early in the Kennedy administration that we first heard of Viet Nam. Where was that??? What was that? Before long a frightening new words entered our vocabulary—the chemical Agent Orange that unleashed lethal damage on all who handled it. At the same time there seemed to be a moral Agent Orange unleashed on our culture as a new morality accomplished its destruction in our society from which we have never recovered. Peace? No! War!
Next came Jimmy Carter’s great failure: his inability to gain the release of our prisoners from Iran. Reagan did that on his inauguration day as he ushered in an era of peace—except that the first suicide bombers struck the Marine barracks in Beirut signaling the opening salvo in the war on terror. Bush the 41st led us in Desert Storm while Clinton did his best to keep us out of war, but we were engaged in Bosnia. One of the most notable students at Dallas Seminary during the late 90s was Scott O’Grady, the Air Force pilot who was shot down over Bosnia, but eluded capture for six days. Of course I do not need to talk about the Gulf War or the war in Afghanistan where we have been fighting for longer than ever before in our history.
Peace? No! War!
But what about Christmas and the angelic announcement of peace on earth, good will toward men? The problem is that’s not what the angels said. Instead they said, “Peace on earth toward those with whom God is well pleased.” No person who fails to please God will ever find His peace, and the only one way to please God is by grace through Christ’s cross and the empty grave. Peace comes by grace, and grace comes through trust in God’s promise of life in Christ. The peace we have from God and with God and through God is all of grace and not ourselves. The angelic proclamation grows out of God’s promise of grace.
Yet I have a great concern that some believers today are taking credit for God’s grace, as if they are superior because of their morality. “We are not like those immoral people or those addicts around us,” they say. “We do what’s right and reject those who do what’s wrong.”
Do we not know that we do what’s right because of God’s undeserved mercy upon us? Do we not know that we are just as sinful as those we condemn? Do we not know that the grace we receive is utterly undeserved? That without God’s unearned intervention we would be just like them? God is not well pleased with us because of what we have done but because of what He is doing in and for us.
The response to grace is not pride, but humility. When we are proud of our moral superiority we cannot have God’s peace nor do we make peace in our world. Until we come to the place where God is well pleased with us because of our humble response to His grace, all we can do is add to the restlessness and struggle around us.
Peace? Yes. By the humility of grace through faith in Christ. Otherwise, war!