a New Christianity

Peacemakers: What is Peace?

The seventh Beatitude is found in the Gospel of Matthew, in the 9th verse. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” It seems like this should be an easily interpreted Beatitude, just like the last one we looked at (even though we discounted the easy interpretation in that case).

To begin our discussion, let us start with this question: What is peace? We can begin with the dictionary to try and answer this question. As we do so, we need to keep in mind that one of the points which Yeshua stresses in His teachings is that the ways of the world, are not the ways of God. This is evident in some of the definitions of ‘peace’ found in the dictionary. One definition reads “the absence of war, or other hostilities.” Indeed as we read, or hear, or watch the news these days, this would seem to be an appropriate definition. (When I began this article, Israel was fighting Hezbollah over the control of southern Lebanon.)

Even though this is technically a correct definition of ‘peace’, it is different than the kind of ‘peace’ that Yeshua was teaching about in this Beatitude. This ‘war-less’ kind of peace (as a friend of mine has pointed out) is like the silence which follows a child’s tantrum. Having exhausted his energy with fits of screaming and crying, the child falls asleep. The resulting quiet might be called peace, but it is more of an exhausted, empty silence: As with the child, so with war or hostilities. The cessation of fighting may be called peace, but it’s more like the exhausted emptiness following a child’s tantrum, than the sense of peace which Yeshua was teaching about.

Another definition which is more worldly than ‘Godly’ defines peace this way: “The absence of mental stress or anxiety.” This is closer to the peace that Yeshua was teaching, because it refers to peace as being inside of us. This internal quality is missing from the definition which referred to war. But like the ‘war-less’ definition of peace, this definition points to an ‘absence’, and by doing so, alludes to the fact that these kinds of peace have an emptiness to them. This is not Yeshua’s peace; this is the world’s peace. It may be quiet, it may even be calm, but mostly, it is empty.

If we keep looking, the dictionary does finally point us in the right direction, defining peace as “inner contentment; serenity; peace of mind.” This is the definition which comes closest to the definition that Yeshua was using. But even as we acknowledge this fact, we also get a sense of just how hard it is to define His concept of peace.

Those who write and edit dictionaries are most aware that you shouldn’t reuse a word in its own definition. When they use the phrase “peace of mind” in the definition of the word ‘peace’, this is exactly what they have done; which only underscores the difficulty that we have of trying to define (let alone understand) the concept of ‘peace’.

Sometimes we can better understand the concept of a word by looking at its antonyms (or words which mean the opposite), and working back from them to firm up our understanding of the word we are trying to define. Here are some of the antonyms listed for the word ‘peace’: agitation, distress, frustration, irritation, upset and worry. Working within the context of these antonyms, we see a pattern emerging: a lack of control. Each of these words relate to a situation where the person involved has somehow lost control, or maybe never felt that they had control. But we aren’t talking about control (or lack of control) over the external circumstances (even though the person involved doesn’t necessarily realize this), we’re talking about control over our responses to the external circumstances, as they unfold around us.

We’ve talked frequently about the two ‘selves’ which we are. Also referred to in terms of ‘man’, we have looked at the fact that we are in a state of being called ‘lower self’ or as the Apostle Paul put it, ‘natural man’. As we find ourselves in this state, our goal is to work our way up from natural man (the lower self) to ‘spiritual man’ (the higher self). This is a transition that takes place over many, many years, and during this transition, the lower self is resistant to this change. One of the hallmarks of this transition is that as we move into the higher self, we learn to be in greater control of our emotions, and our emotional responses to external circumstances as they unfold around us. While the dictionary might be alluding to this as ‘peace of mind’, we also know it by another term: ‘self-control’.

Early on in the life of this website, I wrote an article called ‘Movin’ Out’ With a Fresh Start. In this article, we talked about the musical from Twila Tharpe, based on the music of Billy Joel, called Movin’ Out. We looked specifically at the character of Eddy, who had gotten involved with drugs, and had created numerous obstacles for himself, which had the effect of blocking out the Father’s love and joy from his life. It was like he built a wall, and placed it between himself and the Father. But drugs aren’t the only components of such a wall. We can also build walls between us and the Father, made out of uncontrolled, negative emotions. The source of these negative emotions is the lower self. Recall what we said in the last paragraph: As we seek to make the transition from lower self to higher self, the lower self is resistant to this change. One of the ways in which the lower self puts up this resistance, is through negative emotions. By getting us to be agitated, irritated or upset, the lower self gets us to pay attention to ourselves, and not pay attention to the needs of those around us. As we give in to these negative emotions, we temporarily block out the Father’s love and joy.

This is not to say that all emotions are automatically bad. Obviously since we have determined that in teaching us the basiliea ton ouranos, Yeshua seeks to teach us the ‘knowledge of happiness’, then this happiness must be felt on an emotional level. If this is the case, then emotions must be a good thing; indeed they are. The important thing to consider is that negative emotions themselves don’t stand in the way of peace, unless they are allowed to get out of control. A good example of this is the well known scene in which Yeshua cleared the money changers out of the temple. Though it only takes up two verses in the Gospel of Matthew, I am sure that we can all picture the scene from the various movies which have sought to portray events from His life. In the scene where He clears out the temple, Yeshua isn’t portrayed as having been annoyed or upset, but rather He is shown to be fully enraged at the immoral corruption which has been allowed to take place there. And yet I believe without a doubt that He was in control of Himself, of His actions, and of His emotions the whole time. He used His emotions as a tool, as a means of conveying to witnesses exactly how He viewed the practice of deceiving and fleecing the faithful believers who were visiting the temple.

This is a good example of how self control becomes an important part of the state of being we call ‘at peace’. When we are able to keep our emotions under control, they become a tool or a resource which we can use in our service to the Father, as Yeshua did. They can also be used to enhance our quality of life, and as a means for the Father’s joy to flow into our lives, and through us into the lives of others. But in able for us to have room for the Father’s joy, we must quiet the chaotic ruckus of the negative emotions that tends to drown out the ‘still small voice’ of the Father, within us. The use of self-control then, is the means for achieving peace: a fulfilling sense of contentment, into which flows the Father’s love, and joy!

Now that we have effectively defined peace, the next logical question is this: What is a peacemaker? We’ll look at that question in our next article.

Grace and peace to you all,
Paul