There is no path to peace by way of security; behind the quest for security there lies the same distrust and defensiveness which is the root cause of war.
Bonhoeffer – 1934
When it becomes controlling, the desire to rest in safety and avoid risks entails violence, even when it comes under the guise of peaceable language. At bottom, it is the desire to be free from others’ impingement upon me – free from their demands, free from their interference, free from their coercion. My longing to spend time in my own backyard and have a nice garden is honorable – right up until it becomes a way to escape my neighbor’s need. Privacy won by exclusion is violence, albeit a more subtle form.
Real peace does not exist apart from real freedom – and real freedom is hard won indeed. But real freedom is not won by weaponry, nor is real peace the absence of threats and interference. Biblical peace is synonymous with wholeness; the freedom that this peace brings is not mere independence. Freedom means the ability to serve and love others; it happens in the midst of relationships, in the midst of vulnerabilities, in the midst of one’s friends and enemies. The idea of freedom as the absence of obligations, demands, and interferences is a lonely path. The trajectory of perfecting that kind of freedom points in the direction of absolute solitude – and hell is the only place where creatures can get as far away from other beings as they might like.
Security is a powerful idol – it is a temptation with a “natural” biological root within us. Every animal gets nervous when things change and humans are no different. But Christians know that what is “natural” and biological within fallen humanity is not thereby pleasing to God – Adam and Eve disobeyed as whole people, and their whole persons suffer their disobedience. Adam and Eve’s stitched fig leaves are an attempt at security – protecting themselves against one another’s gaze, and against the eye of God. Ever since that day, humanity has been (mis)using creation in an attempt to cover our vulnerability rather than come face to face with our dependence on the Creator for every good thing. This is what makes thanksgiving a radically subversive activity. To say “thank you” is to repent from the notion of self-sufficiency.
The way to peace is the way of openness and trust. The way to peace includes a willingness to absorb the violence, need, hunger, addiction and pain of others into our own experience. This means that the way to peace in a broken world is anything but secure. The way to peace is not the way of security. So long as violence exists in creation, the way of peace is to meet it in such a way as to bring about repentance and reconciliation. That meeting is anything but secure. By the Spirit of Jesus may we gain such an appetite for peace that we should dare to swallow the hatred and violence of others with the knowledge that hatred and violence are already overcome in the peace Jesus gives.
Violence is never the solution to violence, but neither should we be so naïve as to think that the violence of a broken and sinful world will simply wear itself out if we ignore it. I’m coming to recognize that answering the question about the use of violence is not the place for pre-arranged absolutisms. That said, the shape of the gospel as a whole, as well as the direct commands of Christ presents those called as his disciples with the need to repent and ask for God’s mercy after any “necessary” use of violence.
The desire for security is violent when it takes the form of freedom-from-others. The myth of self-sufficiency is ultimately self-destructive. None of us can make it on our own. When we exclude others pretending that we can, we are left alone at the points of our own greatest need. When we craft a society whose central values include self-sufficiency and independence, those who come into need (for any of a myriad of reasons) are left out in the cold.
What is worse, it is a self-perpetuating cycle. We see others in need and are internally stricken with fear at the realization that we could be similarly left in the lurch. This makes us work even harder at ensuring that we will never come into a position of such need. In turn, that means limiting generosity and watching the budget even more closely. This is a false solution – every one to his own castle (and shame for those unfortunates left outside).
The other solution is fostering a society of openness and trust. This means being willing to get burned once or twice. It is a peace that only comes on the far side of the cross. And that cross is the one Jesus asked us to pick up daily. It means living with the drawbridge down and muzzles on the crocs in the moat. It means overcoming the fear of difference in order to find the human being in the person who seems so foreign. It means giving up the idol of security for the promise of peace – even if that promised peace is a dying hope.