There's a joke about a man who thinks his cousin is overly fixated on conflict, that his identity is based in it. He wonders who Hassan would be if the tension between the Jews and Palestinians ended. So Aron asks Hassan what he would do "if peace just happened." Hassan responds, in a quiet and serious tone, "We would continue to fight."
Aron pauses for a beat at this point in the story. Of course the joke is that Hassan's answer is ludicrous — if true peace existed, you wouldn't be fighting. Aron tries again, rephrasing the question to his cousin, trying to make it more specific: "If peace just magically could happen— "
Hassan interrupts: "WE WILL RESIST!"
This punchline has become our (somewhat ironic) battle cry.
We are increasingly encountering the danger and reality of false peace — something that the Bible speaks of, but I had failed to understand until recently (Ezekiel 13:10).
False peace is the spiritual equivalent of leprosy. In that illness, the harm to the body isn't caused directly by the disease, but indirectly by its damage to the nervous system. The leper leaves his hand in the fire, because he can't feel the flames. The leper doesn’t react, is burned, and has no idea. Spiritual numbness is the same. It's peace, but at such a cost.
These months have been filled with encounters of this. And it's been staggering and painful to find that this extends to include even those who live in the horror of having seen murder, who bear scars on their own bodies. It includes friends whose background includes childhood rape; others whose addictions have put them at the mercy of traffickers. The darkness is raiding them, but the darkness is also offering them anesthesia and a place to hide (Matthew 11:12, Jeremiah 6:14).
It's horrifying but it's not irrational. A friend told me that life started getting worse when her Qur'an went missing; she told me that she had barely read it, but it seemed to have kept her safe. She said that maybe she needed to find one again.
The concept of the Qur'an as a power object, that it possesses some sort of inherent supernatural quality, is common. I asked her if she knows what the text itself says. (If it has power that's good, shouldn't its text reflect goodness?) I summarized some of its Suras, then told her a few Hadith. She stared at me briefly, and then said "Okay. Maybe I'm not a Muslim. But I think I'm a Hindu."
I asked her why. She told me about the horrors in her life right now, and then said this: "I think I deserve all of this. I must have done something. You might not get it, but to me that brings peace."
The subtext, and part of what she said later: I need life to make sense. I don't care how ugly the picture I see is, as long as I can see a picture instead of chaos.
I want to say this as distinctly as possible: Her peace is based on the idea that violent degradation and exploitation is something a person can deserve: that the pantheon "godhead" of Hinduism decided she needs to suffer. She is "safe" from random evil because "she asked for this." The thought gives her relief.
This is peace based in madness.
And it's pervasive across humanity. Do you know the peace of Buddhism? It's that anything can happen, no matter how hideous, and it doesn't matter — because I'm not real, and you're not real. If you don't care, nothing hurts. This is "nirvana."
The peace of Islam: horror can happen, but there's a way to understand it: Qadar. The Islamic doctrine of fate. Qadar says that evil in the world is God's desire: it's fate that he wrote for you. Say "Alhamdulillah" (Hallelujah) in response and shut down your mind and heart. This is peace.
People run to the false peace of false religions (and when that fails, the chemical peace of alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine, khat, opiods) because we want design instead of chaos. Because we seem to believe that if we can name and understand something, we don't have to fear it. Like some strange version of Adam in the Garden: he named the animals, and then subdued them. We live out a distorted variation of this. We were made in the image of God. It's innate in us to take raw matter and give it form, like God did in Genesis 1:1-5. (First he spoke and it "was." Then he gave it shape.) The distortion is when we no longer care if this form is real or true or good.
We build "worlds" for ourselves to live in, and we don't care if they're real; we only care about not being afraid; not feeling chaos.
And then the final hit, the sucker punch that comes next. Darkness induces pain, and then invites a person into deep sleep to not feel it (1 Thessalonians 5:5-6). In this deep sleep, as minds and hearts are numbed, the exploitation accelerates.
We expect people in darkness to be happy when light appears. We need a Biblical paradigm for what (often) happens instead.
John 3:19-20 provides this: darkness has a functionality. It hides us. It hides our sin, our shame; and so we react to light as invasive and painful. We wince, we turn, we run. From the only one who is truly good.
The lost beg us to let them sleep. They want us to accept their "peace." We have to resist.
Christ in his mercy came to bring a sword (Matthew 10:34, Revelation 19:15); a sword that can divide soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12); a sword that "will pierce your own soul as well" (Luke 2:35).
This is kindness; this is compassion.
God says to the anesthetized, to the ones who cower in darkness, "Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!" (Ephesians 5:14).
Jim Elliot spoke to this when he said, "Christianity [is] by nature disruptive."
Our prayer is this: May the Church disrupt the sleep, disrupt the darkness, disrupt the lies, disrupt the false peace.
Let me be overly direct — it's a privilege to step near brokenness. It's a privilege to feel the pain of that proximity and grieve the ugliness of sin that's been done to those we love: to weep with those who weep. But we don't do this for the sake of empathy alone. We do this because rescue is real.
The God of compassion, who "speaks light out of darkness" can speak light into our friends' hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The God who "quickens the dead, and speaks into existence things that were not" can wake those who are sleeping and call them to life (Romans 4:17).
The God of the universe, who lived as "a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering," can draw close to those who are harassed and helpless (Romans 4:19, Isaiah 53:3, Matthew 9:36).
There is no place too far, no darkness too dark for him (Psalm 139, Daniel 2:22).
He chooses to come near it, to stay by us in it, for us. This is our hope. This is our joy; this is our glory. This is our message. This is our victory.
May we walk in the knowledge of that. May we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, the one who has all authority on heaven and on earth. Christ, whose disruption is rescue. Christ, the only Prince of Peace.