Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent, peace, and the temptation of realism

With a few days remaining in Advent, here's a brief devotion I contributed to the Advent devotional book published this year by Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, North Carolina (see entry for December 5). For what it's worth, it reflects my growing awareness that the realism of Reinhold Niebuhr (often referred to as "Niebuhrian realism") has served as the default philosophical/theological framework that has provided moral justification for American foreign policy since the 1950s, regardless of which party occupies the White House, and the resonance with me of Stanley Hauerwas' reflection in his recent memoir on his mid-career change in perspective on Niebuhr: "I began to think that Niebuhr had seduced me--and "seduction" is exactly the right word--to assume that the way things are is the way things have to be" (Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir [Eerdmans, 2010], p. 85).

Advent, peace, and the temptation of realism

A beloved children’s book we’ve been reading with our son since his very first Christmas is Can You Say Peace? by Karen Katz. Besides demonstrating the wonderfully varied ways children around the world say “peace” in their own languages, the book declares that “all around the world today, children will wish for peace, hope for peace, and ask for peace.” The children—and adults—of the world share in common a hope for peace because all people are created in the image of the God whose hope for the world is peace. The children and adults of the world also share in common a hope for peace because the world currently lacks the peace for which God created the world and toward which God is moving the world.

It’s appropriate that in the season of Advent the first week’s focus on hope is followed by the second week’s focus on peace, for the biblical word “peace,” Shalom in Hebrew, sums up the biblical vision of the world for which God and people hope. It’s a vision of the actively harmonious co-existence of all of God’s creatures: lions lying down with lambs, enemies embracing, implements of warfare that destroy life re-fashioned into tools of agriculture that sustain life.

The already-but-not-yet nature of the Christian hope for the world means that our hope for peace is not directed only toward the age to come when Christ returns and God’s reign is fully realized. While it is true that our hope for peace is fully realized in the age to come, we must not succumb to the temptation of realism, the temptation of resignation to the regretful necessity of war and other forms of violence in the present age. The future peace for which we hope is also a present reality and real possibility, for Christ the Prince of Peace has already made possible a different way of life for those who follow him. Following Jesus means taking Jesus’ teachings about non-violence seriously, beating our own swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks even while the powers that be refuse to do so, and working for reconciliation in all our relationships.

As we join God in wishing, hoping, and asking for peace this Advent, let us also join God in working for the peace for which we hope. We won’t have to look very hard to find where God is working for peace: wherever there is war, violence, division, and interpersonal conflict—in short, wherever there is broken relationship—God is already at work to realize the divine hope of peaceful community. Let’s seek to be open to opportunities to join in during this Advent season.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dr. Harmon. In light of your reevaluation of Niebuhr, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on Jesus' words in Luke 22:35-36 which seem to endorse a "realist" existential stance for the church: "Then Jesus asked them, 'When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?' 'Nothing,' they answered. He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.'"