To live a life of peace is to be committed to the pursuit of rightness, of what is just and good. This is because there can be no peace outside of equality of concern for one another’s needs and well-being. This is a reality that many who prescribe to the prevailing false gospel simply cannot understand, which may be why it was so sensible to adopt the Trumpian “America-first” mantra–or why his insistence that the world is better served if everyone in it is looking out for their own interests only (which can only perpetuate a world of ceaseless conflict and struggle against one another and the world itself) didn’t raise any alarms with so many who claim to follow the man who said “love your neighbor as yourself” or his apostle who said,
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[i]
If the life and actions of Jesus are to be considered the highest ideal, I suppose the religious culture of our day (like that of centuries past) has some explaining to do. Its love of power and comfort over and against the needs of its neighbors seems to have accepted that the reality of our world is exactly the one mentioned parenthetically earlier–a world of ceaseless conflict and struggle. The rightness (think “righteousness” of Jesus’ claim “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness “) that we truly hunger for which can just as easily be translated (in this context and in the beatitudes) as “justice” is one which is intended to produce the opposite: a world without conflict and struggle against one another. A world that is free to exist in peace.
This is the world I take to be promised in Romans 8. In this passage, I believe Paul is teaching that we (if we have shared in his suffering[ii]) may look forward to sharing in Jesus’ resurrection and that of the entire earth (kosmos), which has also shared in his suffering (just not by its own will). That this good earth is awaiting a final restoration that will take place when these bodies are restored as well indicates to me that the justice (rightness, righteousness) which is a promise of the Kingdom of God is his promise to restore this creation’s intended order. And it is our call as followers to live a life in this time which bears witness to that resurrected order.
It is that witness that, I believe, is vital to our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. And this has little to do with regular church attendance and completing religious rituals. It has more to do with living together in a community in which we look out for one another’s needs and care for one another. Where we share the body and blood of Christ and take these into ourselves, bearing them in our own bodies.
It also means that we reject the values of the world: its idolatries and violence. If we are a people who believe that God has something better for those who follow, then we are free to refrain from killing one another to protect our own lives.
These idolatries include not just the violence we do to one another, but that done to the earth itself, its exploitation and destruction. The earth is a gift that we were intended to live within and care for, according to the earliest stories of our scriptures. Importantly, Paul’s statement in Romans 8 that the earth suffers not because of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it to suffering, bears another clue. For some time I have taken “the will of the one who subjected it” not to be God’s, but to be Adam’s (humanity’s). We are the ones who have subjected and continue to subject one another and the earth to suffering. And it is the peacefulness of the Kingdom of God that is intended to alleviate that suffering in anticipation of the resurrection.
In about a week, we’ll be starting a new class at Ploughshares Bible Institute. In this class, we’ll be discussing these issues specifically: the tie between peacefulness with one another and peacefulness with the earth itself. I’ve written about this in greater length here. The course is called THE 310 Christian Community in the World. It is a study of the Kingdom of God as it restores community and creation. We’ll be reading some beautiful works of fiction and poetry, essays and scripture, and having some amazing discussions about the Gospel’s burden for Christian community and the place in which that community lives. We’ll even witness some examples of hints of resurrection in our world now.
Click here to register.
[i] Philippians 2: 3-11 (NIV)
[ii] It’s become increasingly fashionable to wear the title “Universalist.” For my part, while I applaud the desire for inclusivity and share it, I cannot help but feel that this must mean, first, an inclusivity to share the cross of Jesus. I, myself, would bar no one from the invitation to participate in the Kingdom for any reason. But I cannot escape that this seems to be the prerequisite of enjoying the resurrection in my reading. It seems to me that Universalism is only reasonable if one holds to a substitutionary (penal) understanding of Jesus’ work of atonement.