Peace You Don’t Have to Imagine

“Imagine there’s no countries;
It isn’t hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too.
Imagine all the people living life in peace.

You may say that I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us
And all the world will be as one.”

Those familiar words, penned by John Lennon nearly a half-century ago, continue to resonate with audiences around the world. “Imagine” has been recorded by over 200 musicians, including Madonna, Lady Gaga, Elton John, David Bowie, and Dolly Parton. Over its fifty years of existence, the single has sold millions of copies, while the official music video has more than 150 million views on YouTube. Lennon, along with his wife Yoko, wrote what has become his signature song as an anti-war statement in a particularly volatile season of American history. While I’m referring specifically to the era of the conflict in Vietnam, the concept of a “particularly volatile season of American history” could fit almost any generation. From the War of 1812 and the War Between the States in the nineteenth century, to two world wars, the Cold War, Korean War, the Vietnam War, not to mention unrest from the Civil Rights Movement in the twentieth century, to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the twin wars in the Middle East, the election of Donald Trump, COVD-19, and more racial tension in the young twenty-first century, our country has been no stranger to volatile times. No wonder John Lennon’s “Imagine” holds such sway over listeners longing for peace in the midst of all of the chaos. While I don’t agree with his philosophy, I do understand Lennon’s hunger for peace. However, that’s something that even a war-less, conflict-less society cannot know; it’s much more than the absence of violence or the presence of a particular feeling. True peace is unique to God and His children.

Peace is at the heart of the Gospel. Romans 5:1 tells us that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are born at war with God, wanting nothing to do with Him; yet in the midst of our hostility, He made peace with His enemies. More than that, the Holy Spirit now dwells within us and brings forth fruit in our lives, part of which is peace. But the fruit of peace never stays by itself; when sown by a peacemaker, it ultimately brings forth righteousness (James 3:18). This sets Gospel peace apart from the peace that the world offers. “Inner peace,” as the New Age movement might call it, is just for me. It’s a feeling of serenity that I try to achieve so that I feel a certain way and deal with my circumstances. Yes, I suppose it should spill over into my relationships as well, but it’s all about me and my stressful life. Gospel peace, on the other hand, will yield righteousness in my own life, will lead me toward other people, and protect my heart in the storm.

Peace Rules

Paul exhorts the Colossian readers to “let the peace of Christ rule” in their hearts (Col. 3:15); and he tells the Roman church that as far as it depends on them, they should strive to live at peace with all people (12:18). Jesus also gave a surprisingly prominent position to peace, saying that making peace with someone should supersede even worship (Matt. 5:23-26). Clearly, peace is a non-negotiable for disciples of Christ. One reason for this is that He is the God of Peace. Scripture calls Him such several times (Rom. 15:33; 16:20; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20). Therefore, if we want to glorify God—to shine His communicable attributes back to Him—we must let His peace reign in our hearts.

If the “peace of Christ” is going to rule our hearts, that means we must take down some potential usurpers who will try to overtake the throne—despots like bitterness, anger, cynicism, and complaining. Peace cannot co-exist with such insurrectionists. When Jesus said that peacemakers flourish and know the “good life” (Matt. 5:9), He was calling His disciples to a life of reconciliation. But let’s face it. That’s not so easy.

If you’ve ever had a relationship of any kind with another human being, you have known conflict. Where sinners abound, conflict abounds all the more. However, as peacemakers, we’re called to walk toward the conflict, not away from it. Though it’s tempting to gloss over a spat and just pretend it never happened[1], we must deal with it and pursue a restored relationship. This means examining our own lives for our contribution to the conflict (Matt 7:1-4) and asking forgiveness for the areas where we were wrong. This means communicating openly about where we were hurt and how we were wrong. We also must keep the cross in view and be ready to extend forgiveness to the other party—whether they deserve it or not (Matt 18:21-35).[2] Though this seems demanding, Colossians tells us that when we allow peace to rule our hearts, despite conflict, we will know unity within the body of Christ.

Peace Protects

Just as peace should leave the boundaries of our hearts and be offered to other people, it also will stick around and create a barrier of protection within our hearts. We find this idea in Jesus’ final discourse to His disciples before His crucifixion in which He promised to grant them His peace: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27). This peace protects our hearts from being troubled, even in troubling circumstances.

Likewise, Paul offered this hope to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7, emphasis added). Paul knew a thing or two about difficult circumstances—beatings, hunger, incarcerations, shipwreck, danger—he saw it all (2 Cor. 11:24-27). In fact, he wrote the letter to the Philippians while in prison, not knowing if he would be released or executed. However, he shows no signs of despair. Quite the opposite, actually. Later in chapter 4 he will tell his readers that he’s learned to be content no matter what his circumstances are—incarceration or freedom, poverty or riches, sickness or health. This is what the peace from God does for us. It guards us from despair and anxiety and ties us to the Rock that is higher than we are. To change the metaphor, it lifts our eyes to the hills so we may find help (Psalm 121), reminding us that we’re not home yet, that God is still in control. It reminds us of our Savior’s love and the peace with God that He purchased for us through His death on the cross, and that because of that ransom, we have hope. While peace is on duty, all cynicism, skepticism, and doubt are turned away.

Peace is no figment of our imaginations. It’s not a wish, a dream, or a fantasy. As believers in Christ, it’s our reality.

[1] This is different than overlooking an offense in love. In that case, I’m heading off a conflict before it happens, forgiving the person before there’s an offense. When I sweep a real conflict under the rug without true reconciliation, I’m faking peace, not making it.

[2] I realize that in some cases, a restored relationship may not be so easily attained. A quick “I forgive you” may not bring reconciliation. I do believe that Christians are still called to pursue peace, even in those more difficult relationships, all the while keeping Romans 12:15 in view, that peace is not always possible with everyone.

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