I have just learned recently that one of the temples in ancient Rome housed the statue of Janus, the two-faced god of boundaries. The temple had doors on each end, so each side of the statue could face a door. During times of war, the doors remained open. They were closed in times of peace.
According to Plutarch, who wrote this in “Life of King Numa,”
“[Janus] also has a temple at Rome with double doors, which they call the gates of war; for the temple always stands open in time of war, but is closed when peace has come. The latter was a difficult matter, and it rarely happened, since the realm was always engaged in some war, as its increasing size brought it into collision with the barbarous nations which encompassed it round about.”
Even back then, peace rarely happened. As I seek to keep up with world news and note the pockets of extreme instability around the world, I have begun to think that war is a normal state of affairs and peace the anomaly.
It’s not just world news that makes me think that. It’s the closer knowledge of the amount of vitriolic conflict that permeates political discourse, civic issues, religious disputes, and family circles.
Being in a state of war justifies some of the worst of human nature. War gives permission to hate and demonize the other. It turns brutality and wanton destruction, which should be the rarest of activities, into normalcies. It paves the way for charismatic dictators who promise easy answers if the populace will just give up a few more freedoms and give blind trust to their unscrupulous power-grabs.
In many ways, war simplifies life. All turn the focus to winning the battle and destroying the other.
Seeking peace turns out to be far more difficult. Real peace, not forced subservience that may stop immediate violence but solves nothing in the long run, insists that we treat the other as human beings, with the same rights and privileges as the rest of us.
Perhaps that is the reason the message of Jesus was so radical. He insisted we are to love our enemies. We are actually to love those we don’t like very much.
Who are the people around us whose very presence, or even the mention of their names, just turns our gut? Who are those about whom we may have secretly said, “The world would be better off without them?” Who are those we would cross the street to avoid seeing? What about the ones who know how to punch all our buttons and set us off?
Well, once we have identified these people, here’s our commission: we are supposed to love them. Really. We are supposed to recognize their common humanity, stop demonizing and denouncing them, offer them the grace of forgiveness, release them from our need to take vengeance on them, and pray goodness upon them. We are to give them peace.
See why war is so much easier? War frees us to hate and to blame. Peace asks so much more.
With war, the enemy becomes two dimensional, without nuance or shading, only evil. And we ourselves leave behind nuance and shading and see ourselves as only good.
When seeking peace, we have to look instead at our own participation in the moves toward conflict and away from connection. We have to acknowledge our contributions to division rather than focusing only on the other’s contributions.
War says, “I must be the most powerful and the most capable of destroying the other.”
Peace says, “I will lay down my power and seek to heal.”
War brings safety. Peace brings far less safe vulnerability.
Peace is what the realm of heaven is all about. When we have those moments of peace–and that includes peace with ourselves as well as with others and with God, we are experiencing heaven.
It is both an unnatural state, and the most natural state of all.
Let’s work toward it, folks. The alternative is a world gone mad in mutual destruction. With growing weapon sophistication and availability, it won’t take much to set us all aflame.
[Note: This article is scheduled to run in the Denton Record Chronicle on July 18, 2014.}
It is not possible to bomb hate out of the world–hate is like the proverbial cockroach: they’ll survive a nuclear war. Hate can only be loved to transformation. This is the only hope.