Day 13: Matthew 5:9

What about Hitler?

Day 13: Matthew 5:9

Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children.

When you read the Old Testament it seems like our God is a God of war. God repeatedly instructs his people to go to war and kill their enemies. Many of the Biblical heroes – especially the judges and the kings – were mighty warriors. Victory in war was considered to be a sure sign of God’s favor. But this scripture says that God doesn’t want us to work for war. He wants us to work for peace.

The Law of Moses, handed down directly from God, was an attempt to get people to get along with each other and also to create a sense of unity for the Hebrew people. Disobedience to the law was serious and in some cases punishable by death.  Doesn’t seem like a very peaceful way to achieve peace.

Many years later the prophet Isaiah forcefully clarifies God’s position on war and peacemaking by predicting that the coming Messiah – God’s chosen one – will not be a man of war.  He will be called the “Prince of Peace.” Isaiah describes the new kingdom that God wants to establish as a place of peace, joy, and happiness. Isaiah 2 says that that God himself will settle disputes among nations, and that “Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again.”

In this scripture Jesus says that God himself is a peacemaker, a pacifist, one who is working actively for peace.  To most of Jesus’ students this was a new and unsettling concept. Then, as now, peacemakers were considered to be “weak” while warriors were perceived as “strong” so this image of God was not particularly well received. Then, as now, the people of God expect him to be strong, and they expect their savior to be a warrior.

Peacemaking is hazardous work! Look at Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lennon, John Kennedy, Chico Mendes – all murdered. Look at all of the people who have been killed in peacekeeping forces around the world in the last 50 years.  Everyone wants peace but they don’t like pacifism.  Go figure.

Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’. (George Orwell)

Pacifism is a shifty doctrine under which a man accept the benefits of the social group without being willing to pay-and claims a halo for his dishonesty. (Robert A. Heinlein)

The pacifist is as surely a traitor to his country and to humanity as is the most brutal wrongdoer. (Theodore Roosevelt)

The absolute pacifist is a bad citizen; times come when force must be used to uphold right, justice and ideals. (Alfred North Whitehead)

From pacifist to terrorist, each person condemns violence – and then adds one cherished case in which it may be justified. (Gloria Steinem)

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. (John Stuart Mill)

Pacifists have always been the object of scorn and resentment. If you want to get a lot of people angry just suggest that we Americans should all get rid of our guns or dismantle our nation’s military industrial complex or ban violent film entertainment. Become a conscientious objector and see how your friends and family react to it. To be a peacemaker is “un-American:”

Americans have a warrior’s mentality, most of them. That’s how this society was built. The fact that you own a gun and shoot to defend your life is a very American way of thinking. (Isabel Allende)

I have noticed that when people are confronted with Jesus’ pacifism, they often respond with, “What about Hitler?” Well, I say, what about him? He attacked and the rest of the world responded with military retaliation. What if we had all retaliated with love? How would it have all turned out? Would there still have been 60 million deaths? Or would Hitler’s army have become disillusioned in the face of pacifism and love and turned on him, as is often the case with unbalanced dictators who build up powerful armies. But the world chose to fight back with savage weaponry and brute force, so we will never know.

Yes, let’s talk about Hitler.  It is said that Hitler was devastated that he was rejected from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts at the same time that his mother was dying of cancer. Maybe if one person would have taken the time to minister to him and help him forgive and forget he wouldn’t have felt the need to do something as futile as trying to take over Europe. Maybe he would have been healed and married a nice girl and had a couple of kids and led a quiet life. Maybe he would have been become a committed Christian. Maybe he would have taken the words of Jesus to heart and become a pacifist. But that isn’t what happened, so once again we will never know.

Hitler during the First World War.

What if World War I hadn’t existed? After the death of his mother and rejection from art school he enlisted in the military during World War I. That was when Hitler learned how to fight. He was praised and highly decorated and he called his military service “the greatest of all experiences.” It was in the military that he received true praise and acceptance for the first time in his life. What if this war had been avoided and Hitler was never exposed to bloodshed and battlefield and military strategy?   Would he have become a warrior without exposure to war? We will never know.

I think all violence is a manifestation of evil. It’s just bullying on a large scale. Might makes right. Survival of the fittest. I think war is an utter waste of time and valuable resources. One side can impose its will on another by force, but it’s only a temporary solution and the hatred simmers below the surface and erupts at the first opportunity. Ultimately wars end when people get sick and tired of being sick and tired – and poor and scared and homeless and hungry and unproductive. When anger burns itself out (which is inevitable), the violence loses its allure and the process of reconciliation and negotiation inevitably begins. Why not just cut to the chase and settle our differences in the first place and avoid all the nastiness? Like we used to say in the ‘60s – What if they had a war and nobody came?

It’s hard to put aside all of the American militaristic propaganda that we are force fed. Even the Catholic Church has a “Just War Doctrine” that endorses military action under certain conditions. But when you set aside the traditional ideology and think about it objectively, it’s pretty illogical to think that war brings peace. To me it’s like thinking that you can make people healthy by sneezing on them. Or make them free by enslaving them.  Or make them chaste by raping them. When you make people go to war you make them warriors. You instill, nurture, and release the seeds violence within them.

We have been taught that war is a necessary evil and that those who engage in it are doing God’s work. There is the illusion that fighting makes us safe, when in reality fighting results in untimely death and needless suffering. The only way to achieve peace is to restrain from fighting. It’s a tough pill to swallow. It just doesn’t feel right, and yet deep down in our hearts we know that Jesus is right.

Despite the indoctrination to the contrary, not everyone is a hawk. There have been a lot of very vocal and influential doves over the years – both Christian and otherwise:

How vile and despicable war seems to me! I would rather be hacked to pieces than take part in such an abominable business. (Albert Einstein)

It would be better for our country and the world in general, if at least the few people who were capable of thought stood for reason and the love of peace instead of heading wildly with blind obsession for new war. (Hermann Hesse)

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity. (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. (John F. Kennedy)

Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me. (Jill Jackson and Sy Miller)

War, huh, good God, y’all. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing (Edwin Starr)

If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliché that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal. (John Lennon)

Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding. (Ralph Waldo Emerson),

And perhaps my favorite:  No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

The dialogue continues. Personally I don’t think there’s much to discuss if you are a follower of Jesus. Jesus is pretty clear on this subject but people are ridiculously stubborn about accepting it. Jesus says, “Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children.”  Jesus says here that if we want to be happy we have to work for peace. Maybe that’s why so many soldiers return from war messed up and desperately, devastatingly unhappy. Maybe that’s why the reality is that takes societies decades or even centuries to recover from the wounds of war – regardless of whether they win or lose.   Yes, the first part of this scripture says that we can be happy only if we work for peace. And then, in the second part of this scripture, Jesus says that when we work for peace we are acting like God’s children; we are acting like our Father God. So when we glorify war who are we acting like? Think about it.

What does this scripture say to you?

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3 thoughts on “Day 13: Matthew 5:9

  1. Sometimes when we think about war and peace, we think about it at the national and international level. But I think if each of us focused on peace in our individual lives, we could totally change the world. I need to be a peacemaker in my family, in my work, in my politics. And the truth is that I reallly fail at this. But I believe in it so I will just keep trying.

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