Someone had plastered the bumper sticker on an exposed beam in the house I rented with two other guys during my first year in law school. The bumper sticker read, “If you want peace, work for justice.” I have seen the bumper sticker and the sentiment expressed many times since. I cannot recall the sentiment being so succinctly and perfectly expressed prior to my moving into that old house. They are words I’ve remembered and – at my better moments – tried to live by ever since.
I want peace. I think we all do. Usually when I think of peace, I contemplate, at a minimum, an absence of war, discord, and strife. Peace should be more than just that, but peace has to be at least that. Peace also can be intensely personal: the tranquility of that time alone in a pristine Alpine meadow or a beautiful Caribbean beach, or even just sipping your favorite hot beverage before the day’s demands and opportunities close in (or maybe your favorite cold one as the day ebbs away). Peace, though, has to be more than just a patchwork of those individual moments. Ideally, peace should denote a sort of harmony and wholeness. It is the many disparate aspects of our lives and world, flowing smoothly and working together in some sort of higher, common purpose. When I think of the Christ as the “Prince of Peace,” I envision more than just the potentate of serenity who helps us stop the myriad forms of bomb-throwing, from verbal to thermonuclear. I envision a Redeemer and Reconciler, the One who brings together the many into an eclectic whole, which functions in some sort of harmony to bring about God’s Kingdom in, through, and among us all (see Isaiah 9:6).
But how to get there? That’s where justice needs to kick in. Justice, however, is actually an even harder concept than peace. Peace, with God’s help, can be developed on some levels internally and even on your own (find that meadow, beach, or beverage). Justice, however, requires relationships to be achieved. It may be possible to be “just” with yourself, but we typically see justice more in the “balance” of relationships. To understand and try to achieve justice between you and your neighbor, or your spouse, or your employer, or Charlotte’s homeless, or the African or Mexican you’ve never met, or even God’s Creation as a whole, you have got to be in relationship – somehow – with all of those entities. Justice is nothing less than that elusive “right relationship” between entities in which balance can be achieved and the very relationship restored, enhanced, and enabled to go on.
Back to that bumper sticker. Working for justice enables us to get to peace at a variety of levels. If the relationships – whatever they are – are “right,” and the two sides treat each other justly, we eliminate the need for discord, strife, and even war. When the shouting (and bomb-throwing in all its forms) stops, the conversations can begin. Justice allows that space for peace to take root. I suppose at another level, you can find peace with yourself by working hard for justice for others. There just never seems to be enough time for insecurity, doubt, addiction, and even self-loathing, when you are working hard for somebody else’s benefit and doing it for the right, Christ-focused reasons. Those beverages – whatever they are – just taste better before and after days spent working for others. Finally, justice enables us to maintain and nurture the very relationships that make up the greater, hopefully harmonious, whole. When we have more justice among all of the different relationships of which we are a part – and whether we acknowledge the interconnectedness of all relationships in Creation or not, it’s there – we have the opportunity for the harmonious coming together of the greater whole. And that is Peace. As scripture tells us, albeit not quite on a bumper sticker, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” –Colossians 3:15
Crisis Assistance Ministry, assisting those in crisis with rent and utility expenses