By Ben Swift
“Peace be with you.” “And also with you.”
Growing up in the Anglican Church I have many memories of using the above words to pass the peace to others during church services. But what does it really mean to pass the peace? Do we really, deep down, desire peace for and with everyone we cross paths with? Or is our desire for peace more selective and confined to those who are like us; a love saved for those whose image reflects at least a little of ourselves or the selves we seek to be?
The problem with humanity is that we behave like human beings, subconsciously under the influence of a biological condition that has us dancing to our DNA. We constantly strive for survival and acceptance within the human pack, seeking to fit in using whatever means necessary until we establish so called immortality through the passing on of our genes.
Tribalism – the group mentality – seems inescapable to members of a species who need to be accepted; to fit in. Tribalism is all around us and none of us are exempt. From the school yard to politics, religion to race, sporting clubs to fashion, the boundaries of our worlds overlap, separate and collide.
A few decades ago in my home town of Melbourne, Australia, tribalism ran strong through the veins of suburbanites as football teams formed lines of separation that were not to be crossed. Typically your postcode dictated the football team you were to support with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength; a tribe that defined a large proportion of your identity as a Melbournian. Stories of young men wandering into the territory of rival teams ended in bloody brawls using everything down to the pickets from fences to defend the pride and territory of the tribe. But obviously this type of madness is not exclusive. Temporary or otherwise, insanity often flows from the heart of tribalism.
With the mentality of tribalism based on such simple things as football teams causing such emotionally driven acts of hate and violence, what hope do we have for peace in a world where the ‘them and us’ extends to so many different contexts? While hate is never acceptable, it is often the result of complex, deep seeded and historical tensions between the ‘them and us’.
A conundrum seems to exist within The Human Race; a tension between the peace we desire and the group mentalities that drive a dualistic wedge between us as members of the tribe known as ‘humanity’.
Is there a solution to this age old problem or will we simply have to settle for the well-meaning intentions of Miss Universe contestants?
It seems in our search for a pathway to world peace that much of humanity, at least in the western world, identify with John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. But before hitching a ride on this bandwagon, it just might be worth contemplating what the lyrics to this song suggest. Do we really want to imagine heaven to be non-existent, crushing the hope of a better world beyond the now and the future that we have a promised part in? Do we really want to imagine the death of religion and therefore God, leaving us without significance and meaning beyond random chance?
While this song may serve as an emotional anthem for humanists, the existence of One who stretches far beyond the limits of our finite comprehension is a reality linked to a deeper hope, far greater than humanity alone can ever offer.
It may not align with popular western opinion but the solution to peace in a tribalistic, dualistic world can only be found in the Scriptures. Imagine that!
Unless all human beings can come to the realization that although we identify with many different tribes, we all belong to the human tribe. Understanding this from a biblical perspective can have far reaching implications; human life can be seen through God’s eyes so to speak.
“So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
Peace pleads for us to open our eyes to the realization that all human beings matter to God. You will never look into the eyes of another human being who does not matter to God. This reality alone should see the divisive walls of the ‘them and us’ crumbling as we comprehend the intended diversity of humanity and the fact we are all included in a non-random sacred creation, purpose built to live in harmony with both God and each other.
To take this concept to an even deeper level we must look to Christ, the Messiah, King of those who have faith.
“Then to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)
To follow Christ is to be a part of something far greater than any tribe. We are invited to be members of a kingdom, ruled by the King appointed by the Ancient of Days from the beginning, a king also known as the Prince of Peace. Surely the path to peace lies in following this king, serving him through an unwavering allegiance to his kingship. Following in the dust of Rabbi Jesus we must learn his ways if there is to be any hope for peace.
History can be a powerful teacher and we should be able to learn from our terrible, bloody history as human beings. The truth however, is that we don’t seem to be making much progress. While dualistic natures continue to divide societies, waging all kinds of wars between those created in God’s image, the unworn path to peace starts with the words of our King:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:7-9)