October 15th, 2012 at 7:00 am
The Nobel Committee has reminded the world again of the importance and fragility of peace. In awarding this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union, the committee shocked the world and gave it a history lesson.
Minds suddenly went racing back to the first half of the 20th century when two devastating wars ripped apart the continent. Millions, literally millions, of people died. Many others suffered. And the toll was felt around the world.
In being honored for decades of peace since World War II, Europe’s current struggles were placed into a new context. The European Union is about more than the Euro and financial problems. It is about knitting together nations that once had a well-established history of conflict, brutal conflict.
Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland praised the EU for its role in reconciling France and Germany in the decades after World War II, and incorporating Spain, Portugal and Greece after the collapse of their authoritarian regimes in the 1970s, the Council on Foreign Relations reported. “Jagland challenged the twenty-seven-nation group (FT) to shift its focus to the Balkan countries, where Croatia is on the verge of membership. The award comes as the bloc struggles to resolve one of its deepest crises in history, as debt woes, unemployment, and social unrest threaten the very structure of the union itself (AP).”
History makes it clear that it is possible for the world to explode in conflict. Most people alive today have no personal memory of what it means for the whole world to be at war.
My 85-year-old dad has maintained since President George W. Bush declared a war on terrorism that we have not really been at war because it has had little effect on the daily lives of most people. Most of us still drive our cars where we want to go, eat the food we want to eat, and entertain ourselves to excess. That was not the case during World War II. This is a different kind of war now, but we fool ourselves if we think this is really what war is like.
John Lennon famously wrote, “Give peace a chance.” We don’t need to just give peace a chance; we need to work to make peace a reality, not just on the European and North American continents, but around the world.
War is terrible and devastating. The Nobel Committee has reminded us that peace is a paramount goal. This is a message we followers of the Prince of Peace should easily grasp, for Christ emphasized that we should love our neighbors as ourselves.
A prayer: Dear God, help those of us who follow Christ to have the strength to fight for peace in a world that too often has suffered war.
War powerfully shapes a person’s understanding of the world, including one’s faith. World War II created in many people a veneration of the United States that caused love of country to sometimes override love of God or to conflate the two into one love. The Vietnam War then brought about a mindset of distrust, and since love of God and country had often been melded the two could be dismissed together by some.
It is not surprising that war shapes understandings of faith, but it is surprising that faith does not more often shape understandings of war.
The other day I ran across an article written by Charles Colson in July 2001 shortly after the release of the movie, “Pearl Harbor.” Colson told a story of a young man who wanted vengeance on the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor and how we was able to exact that revenge as a bombardier in Doolittle’s famous raid.
But that was only the beginning of the story. That young man, Jacob DeShazer, became a POW in Japan and asked for a Bible. Ten days into his study, DeShazer asked Christ to forgive his sins. He remembered, “suddenly … when I looked at the enemy officers and guards …, I realized that … if Christ is not in a heart, it is natural to be cruel. … My bitter hatred … changed to loving pity.” Remembering Christ’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” DeShazer asked God to forgive his torturers, too.
That is an example of faith shaping one’s conception of war, and it was expressed by someone deeply impacted by and involved in war. The story continues and illustrates the power of the gospel to change lives. It can be read at colsoncenter.org.
It is interesting that just two months after Colson’s column, the United States was attacked again. Like World War II, it brought a revival of national and religious spirit—and the two together. I do not recall many Christian voices calling for love of our enemies, but some did.
Of course, individuals and nations are different. The United States needed to take action to break up the terrorist camps in Afghanistan, but there was a great temptation for individual Christians to beat the drums of war as if our national enemies were some alien race and not fellow children of God.
Terrorism and war should produce more sadness than anger among Christians for those tragedies are a reminder of how much the people of this world need Christ.
Colson said that when World War II ended, Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the raid on Pearl Harbor, returned to his family farm near Osaka. Later, stepping off a train in Tokyo, he was given a copy of DeShazer’s pamphlet about his experience. Fuchida started reading the Bible. And despite his Shinto heritage, he accepted Christ as his Savior.
Two opposing warriors: Both loved by God. Both forgiven. Both united in Christ.
A prayer: Dear God, help us to see our world through your eyes and not our own. Help us to love all people, not just the people who are like us or who fly the same flag. Help us to be more like Jesus and love those whom others see as enemies.
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