Monday, December 26, 2011

Our violent world and the Prince of Peace

On Christmas Day there were several bombings in Nigeria of at least three churches. These bombings are a sad commentary on the world where we live -- a world that is filled with violence. These bombs punctuated the worship of people, some of whom were just leaving church.

In a town near Abuja several families were entirely wiped out. While in Jos, where I lived for many years, another bomb exploded, but no one was killed. Another church in Damaturu, about five hours northeast of Jos, was also attacked. It is sad to think that so many people who only wanted to worship on Christmas morning have lost their lives through needless violence.

St. Theresa's Catholic Church near Abuja was the scene of the first bombing

Yet Christmas is the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace that Isaiah had prophesied many centuries before. He lists many impressive titles, of which this is the final and perhaps greatest one. Peace on earth was the song of the angels who first announced the birth of Christ. Christ came into this world to bring peace: peace among all peoples and nations.

Violence is not something new today; on the contrary, it has been with us since the very beginnings of human history. We have become inured to violence, it seems. Violence sells newspapers and it dominates our TV screens. We witness multiple killings and beatings on news programs on a daily basis, and are fed murders and stabbings as entertainment, with only a brief warning beforehand that this may be offensive to some viewers. Many of the computer games that are so popular today involve violence.

Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for these bombings. This tiny militant group that has ties to Al-Qaeda has attacked police stations, banks and churches for many years. Since 2009, when its leader was captured and summarily executed, it has intensified its violence.

Boko Haram, whose name in Hausa means "Western education is forbidden or sinful," wants to implement a radical form of Islam in Nigeria. By settings off bombs, it is seeking to spark a war between Christians and Muslims,  knowing that Christians are likely to retaliate. But its use of violence has increasingly alienated it from most Muslims, so now Muslims and Christians are on the same side.

Christians have not retaliated for a long time, unlike some occasions in the past. This peaceful response is due in part to the hard work that is being done by a number of peace organizations. Muslims and Christians are working side-by-side for peace. This is as it should be.
An attitude of active non-violence has produced amazing fruit for many years, as I experienced personally in the Philippines in 1986, with the "People's Revolution," where virtually no deaths were recorded. There have been many more examples since then, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even the Arab Spring, in spite of some deaths, is part of this fruit.

The Nigerian government has used military force against Boko Haram, but that is doomed  to failure. Peace cannot be ushered in at the point of a gun. Only negotiations will be able to accomplish that. The only weapons that Christians may rightfully use is the power of God.

As the following graph illustrates, the number of deaths world-wide has declined for many decades. There have been many wars, but the deaths have less numerous. There have been very few so far during the 21st century. But this does not mean that violence has ended.

Violence still installs fear in many people. Even though war has become increasingly rare, violence has not. There is violence everywhere, even in our homes, though it is not necessarily on the increase. In fact, nearly everywhere the crime rate is dropping, especially violent crime.

Sometimes governments seek to use that fear to gain political advantage. In Canada, a new bill in Parliament proposes building more prisons and implementing stiffer sentences. People should not live in terror, but this is not the way to do it. Such legislation does not bring about peace.

A friend in Nigeria, who wrote about these bombings, reminded me: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

In his note he added: "The people who perpetuate these and other horrible atrocities around the world are as much victims as others—deceived by the one who is the liar and the father of liars. They are not to be hated but to be pitied and prayed for that God will open their blinded eyes to the truth."

Peace comes from knowing that our lives are in God's hands. Peace is God's gift to us, through the activity of the Holy Spirit. As Christ promised: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27).
Thus we should not let Boko Haram or other groups that use violence to achieve their goals of making us afraid. The US experienced such fear during 9/11, and the consequences are still with us today. The wars in Iran and Afghanistan are now officially ended, but peace has not yet come to that troubled region.

Peace is more than the absence of war. Thus military means will never be able to achieve peace, whether in Nigeria, Iran, Afghanistan, or any other part of the world. That will only be possible through the work of the Prince of Peace.

As this year quickly draws to a close, let us pray for peace throughout the world for the new year 2012. May each one of you experience that peace in your own life and that of your families.

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