I was born just before the start of the Second World War. The events of the First World War, some twenty years before, was as remote to me as the wars of the Roses or the Roman invasion of Palestine. I knew about war and airplanes in particular. Just down the road from where I lived, was the training school for fighter pilots, and I saw bombers going and returning from raids in Europe. To my mother’s great consternation I collected chaff … the strips of silver paper dropped by aircraft to confuse the radar … and I collected spent shells, and on one occasion a live one, till I was able to differentiate what was dangerous and which wasn’t.
I still have in my possession the base of an incendiary shell dropped on a large house near where I lived. For me, as a child, it was not difficult to distinguish between war and peace, or right and wrong, when it came to aggression.
When I grew older and sang in the choir of the parish church, I witnessed the grief and agony of others who came on Remembrance Sunday to pray that war would not come again. There were soldiers and airmen, and occasionally a sailor … some with limbs missing, with medals and ribbons to say in what battles they had fought. They came often with guilt that they had survived, whilst their comrades had died … some horribly, and in great agony, so that their lives were never the same again, their minds scarred worse than their bodies. The cinema showed the cities of Britain and Europe in ruins, and people going from place to place with their belongings piled high on prams and carts. I believed that war would never come again in my lifetime.
I was to be proved wrong over and over again as Korea came, and Malaya … of numerous wars in Africa with killing on the grand scale … in Cyprus, Aden, Egypt, the Lebanon, Czechoslovakia, Indo China with Vietnam the center of world and media attention … of Ireland and Israel and the Arab nations surrounding it … the Balkans and Afghanistan … the satellite nations of the Soviet Union as its economic and political systems collapsed.
Now we have the new war of terrorism, where ordinary citizens are the targets as much or more than soldiers in uniform. War has become so brutal in its effect, that we have sunk to the levels of the medieval era. There seems no end to the killing and no sight of the peace.
We have this Service today, because we are actively seeking peace. Not all peace is good peace, of course. The Romans had a policy of killing all opponents, and then at the end declared that they had established the peace. Their opponents bitterly commented that the Roman peace was a desert. We can also fall into the trap of believing that if we eliminate all opposition, all other religions, other convictions, then we too shall have established the peace by brutality, by slaughter, oppression and fear.
In our prayers for peace, we have to strive for a just peace that is a fair peace and a right peace that brings in its train the establishment of freedom. We say that all evil is hateful to God, and yet we often condone it by turning away and pretending it is none of our business. We will often attempt to make a peace by surrendering to evil, even though we know the results won’t last. It may be the easy way out, or we are driven by fear of what might happen if we stand up for ourselves, and declare that we are on the side of truth and justice.
There was no such withholding on the part of Jesus Christ. He went for what was right and believed that God would deal in the end with the consequences, if it meant losing his life and was unable to complete his task. He was able to do that because of an inner peace he possessed. He spoke of it often to his followers. It is a peace that is not disturbed by outward events. It is a peace that can carry the holder through hell and high water, through torture and all manner of evil, through distress and sorrow, and bring us through still sane at the end.
To obtain such a peace means centering our lives upon God in whom we trust completely.
That was the kind of confidence Christ possessed. His gospel message contains that call to submit ourselves to God’s safe keeping and, if we are to be Christian, we cannot ignore it. He is always telling us it is true. Be like children, he says, because children are totally dependent upon their parents. In his generation and time, that was symbolized by the father as head of a household. That is how God will be with us if we submit to his rule, is his constant message. Our father, is how he begins his famous prayer. If God is our father, then we are his children. It follows that if we are God’s children then we have come to a position of total dependence upon him.
If we could only place our final trust and confidence in God, we would gain that inward peace. If peoples and nations could do the same, there would be no problem about possessing the outward peace, either, because we would be dependent upon God to make the decisions about peaceful coexistence.
God does not instigate wars whatever some religions would like you to believe. Wars are totally counter-productive. You don’t create people in order to then have them fight each other to extinction. Such a view is offensive even to our simple minds.
The German theologian Reinhold Neibuhur said that we should take to heart the judgments of God when we are tempted to set one person against another, or a nation against a nation.
That we should seek better wisdom and strength to create better instruments for our common life as we live together under the providence of God so that God’s kingdom, as promised by Christ, would come among us as soft as the mist in an autumn evening cloaks the earth.
For me that is a better resolution than armed aggression and conflict.
What then, if we are asked, shall our answer be peace or war and which is it that we actively seek?