Every time I put on a poppy I can’t help but feel conflicted. As someone who first got to know Jesus through the “gospel of peace”, accepting the fact that there are many ways for Christians to fight evil, including war, is hard to do. But I’m learning to let go of that.
You see, I didn’t grow up in the Church, and I didn’t have a born-again experience in my teenage years either. Instead, I came to know Jesus when I was in university studying political science. Initially, I turned to the Bible as more of a guidebook for resisting unjust oppression than a book of divine revelation. My first exposure to Jesus was not as a savior and redeemer but as a philosopher who talked of not resisting evil and loving those who hate you. As someone who was studying alternatives to violence and warfare, this intrigued me. Who was this strange religious leader who commanded his followers to turn the other cheek to those who would strike them? I wanted to know more.
By further exploring the gospels as well as other Christian writings, I did eventually come to know Jesus as more than a human religious teacher, but not without losing sight of the non-violent warrior-philosopher I had initially been drawn to. This sparked my passion to continue studying non-violent resistance, armed with a new justification based on religious convictions. Until I realized that not all Christians thought like me about war and violence. I began to see other perspectives that brought up contradictions to my beliefs. How could Jesus say that he came not to bring peace, but a sword? (Matthew 10:34). Then of course there’s Romans 13 – the ultimate Christian defence of state-sanctioned violence.
I began to realize that it was easy to read both sides of the debate into the scripture if I wanted to. Just as the prophet Isaiah foresaw a time when people would “beat [their] swords into ploughshares” (Isaiah 2:4), the prophet Joel foresaw a time when people would “beat [their] ploughshares into swords” (Joel 3:10).
Over time, I’ve gone back and forth between different positions on peace and violence, without coming to a firm resolution. What I have realized, however, is that I need to be okay with being wrong about my initial convictions – even though these convictions had a large part in bringing me to my faith in the first place. And if my faith was based solely on the gospel of peace, then my faith was only as strong as my arguments to defend my position. Instead, I have begun to strive for a faith that rests not on convictions about what Christianity stands for, but an unshakeable conviction about who Jesus is. This journey has led me to wonder how many other issues I approach in a similar way. How many times do I come to scripture to reinforce what I already believe, and how many times do I come to really seek the truth?
So this November 11th as I don my poppy, I think not of arguments for and against war, but of a faith that inspires Christians in Canada and around the world to risk their lives to fight evil and injustice in a variety of courageous ways, whether they be violent or not. I may not have let go of my views on the gospel of peace yet, but in the end I want to be sure that what I’m really holding on to is the true person of Jesus, and not who I think He should be.
Photo by (flickr CC) Eric Huybrechts