Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Secret to Peace on Earth?

A fairly common question found in Billy Graham's "My Answer" feature is "Why can't people just get along?" (or some variant) Here are excerpts from today's version.
I think a lot of the world's problems would be solved if all the people who belong to the various religions would quit fighting and get together and decide to let each other live in peace. Don't you think this might work? — Mrs. A.H.

A: Dear Mrs. A.H.,
The Bible certainly urges Christ's followers to be peacemakers, and to try to bring a greater measure of peace to our broken world. The Bible says, "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace" (Romans 14:19).

Unfortunately, however, throughout history evil men have used religion as an excuse for hatred and war, not love and peace—and tragically, the same is true today. If everyone honestly wanted peace, then what you suggest might be possible—but sadly, not everyone wants peace. Instead, some are driven only by power and greed, and they will hide behind anything (including religion) to deceive people and make themselves look righteous. The Bible's analysis is right: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).
Graham finishes out his column with the usual encouragement to have everyone turn to God, who alone is able to change the human heart.

I agree with Graham that the people of the world need God, and that God alone can change the human heart. I would even go so far as to agree with him that "not everyone wants peace." However, as I read the question, asking the people of the world's religions to "quit fighting and get together and decide to let each other live in peace," I have a very different response. The problem with the many people (following many different faiths) is not so much that we don't really want peace, but rather that we have very deep differences between us, and we simply don't know how to resolve them. Many people actively define peace as "when all people believe as we do." That won't happen on this side of heaven.

Our problem is far greater than simply deciding not to be violent against each other. It's a matter of learning how to continue to live, to coexist, while having such differences with each other. We're not talking about the very real problems of power and greed, here. We're talking, in some cases, about religions that tell their adherents that all who do not follow them are to be wiped out. We're talking about religions who preach that certain types of people do not deserve to live with dignity. In such extreme cases, it's not as simple as just having the adherents decide to be nicer to each other. Such a decision would fly right in the face of what they've been taught to believe. And lest I be misunderstood, I'm not just talking about Islamic terrorists here. Many Christians find themselves believing exactly these kinds of things.

There's a real need for evangelism here, but also for preaching basic tolerance. We must be willing to accept that not everyone will come to believe as we do, and that it is to be left up to God to decide what becomes of them. Tolerance does not mean that we call behaviors or beliefs that are contrary our own "okay." We continue to hold our differences and beliefs that such behaviors and beliefs are wrong. It simply means that we allow them to coexist, rather than cause harm to those who practice them. We Christians damage the reputation of our faith by our intolerant actions toward others. To paraphrase the old song, if there is ever to be peace on earth, then let it begin with us.

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