In our Tuesday Morning Bible Study, we’re exploring the “Inter-Testamental Period,” the roughly 500 years between the ages recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures and where the Christian Witness takes up. It’s a fascinating time – the empires of Assyria, Babylon and Persia, Alexander the Great and Greeks, the rise of Rome – and it’s an age of virtually constant warfare, throughout the known world.
Once again the clamor for war dominates the newsfeeds of our place and time. New enemies – or more accurately new generations of ancient enmities – flash across the world stage and our television screens. Civil wars, oppressions, incursions, invasions, campaigns of terror and horrific atrocities, in living color; violence in high production values, all designed to instill fear and to provoke a violent response.
The prevalence of war and the threat of war seems a constant state of human affairs that stretches back beyond our recorded history. Forever, we have been at war. It pushes me toward despairing that humanity could ever peacefully co-exist. And I’m torn, by what I believe in the face of what is: by the central calling of God to unity and peace, compassion and forgiveness, in the face of combat, mass murder, beheadings.
The church-wide organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America espouses the tenets of “Just War” doctrine (elca.org/JLE/Articles/418) and I get it; an ethical framework that says sometimes war is justified and necessary to achieve peace.
Jesus recognizes the fear among his followers as they look at what is going on around them, and seeks to make sense of the senseless violence of his world:
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” - Mark 13:6-8
He seems to indicate that something different is coming, that war won’t be forever, that this is all leading somewhere. So I pray, for those who will be crushed in the grinder of war once again … combatants and innocents; our own, and our enemies, alike. And I wonder when we will finally embrace the terrible paradox of war … that violence has always and only proven to do one thing: perpetuate more violence. And I wonder when we will have the courage to pursue peace in a new way, the courage to not respond in kind, to refuse the “default state” of human conflict – as Jordan’s King Abdullah poignantly said: that “someone, somewhere would leave the last blow unanswered” and break the endless cycle of war.