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by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

September, 2014

As I write this, violence has wracked the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson is majority black with a majority white police department. A young, unarmed black man was shot multiple times and killed by a white police officer under circumstances few if any people understand. Witnesses disagree as to what happened. Some say the victim had his hands raised; others say he was attacking the officer. At least one has allegedly recanted his original testimony. The result was protests followed by rioting, including the looting and burning of a local convenience store. A series of errors and overreactions by the police, the media, and outside agitators have only made the situation worse. For many, the case has already been tried and a verdict reached in “the court of public opinion.” We hear and read loaded words like “execution,” “murderer” and “thug” to describe the incident, the officer and the young man.

And yet, most of us—if we’re honest—will admit that we really don’t know what happened. We weren’t there and—as I mentioned—even testimony from witnesses differs. I don’t pretend that I understand how people are feeling or what their pain is like. But there is a certain shared humanity among us all. Injustice is still injustice, pain is still pain, grief is still grief, no matter to whom it happens.

Writer, speaker and consultant Matt Darvas, writing about another conflict, this one in the Middle East, says, “Jesus gives us only ONE side to pick. And he says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers . . .’” (Matt. 5:9a). Those who work for peace are always on “the right side.” On television and up close, you can hear protestors chanting “No justice, no peace.” These people have already decided how peace will come and under what terms: “Give us what we want, when we want it, convict the officer right now without a trial, and you’ll have peace.” On the other side, local police have been saying, in effect, “Do what you’re told and there’ll be peace.” But true peace doesn’t come from getting the other side to surrender; it comes from surrendering—to the will and the Spirit of God.

True “justice” also comes from God. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic. 6:8 NIV). Justice, tempered by mercy, executed in humble surrender to the will of God. This is the Bible’s plan for how we should conduct ourselves in God’s world.

Like Christ, Paul was subjected to all manner of torment and humiliation (2 Cor. 11:21-33). But he had peace. He had peace, not because his opponents surrendered to him but because he surrendered to God’s will. He brought peace to his situation rather than demanding it from his situation. Jesus told his disciples—and he tells us today—“‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.’” (John 14:27a NIV). Peace will not come to this situation when the authorities have surrendered to the protestors, nor will it come when the protestors have surrendered to the authorities. It will only come when both sides have surrendered to the ultimate authority of God.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “. . . I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil. 4:11b-12 NIV). Paul knew what peace was. He knew it didn’t depend on external circumstances but on the power of Christ. That’s why he wrote in the very next verse, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (vs. 13 NIV). If we are to be God’s peacemakers, God’s messengers of peace, that peace must dwell within us.

“‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. You heard me say, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.” If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. . . . the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.’” (John 14:27-28; 31a NIV.)

Copyright © 2014 by David Phelps