Philippians 4:7 makes an interesting comment about peace: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Given my own background and religious beliefs, for a long time I did not have any reason to witness the hostility of orthodox Judaism against Jesus Christ, which would have served as a balance to the hostility against God’s laws and God’s ways (particularly the Sabbath) that are all too evident in many areas of so-called Christianity. However, the recent experiences of the immense and irrationality of the hatred of an Orthodox Jew for the ways of God (simply because they do not follow the narrow traditions of that sect) have shown me that the accounts of Acts and Paul about such matters is still relevant to our own times, and something we have to take into consideration.
It strikes me as particularly ironic, not to say hypocritical, that the same person who claims to long for peace also openly proclaims that she is praying for others to change their beliefs and accept what she calls truth, showing great frustration with the fact that others do not understand as she does even as she cannot understand the offense she makes with her attacks on the Holy Scriptures of the Eternal and on those who believe and follow them. Nevertheless, we must also recognize that this same tension or contradiction may easily exist in our own lives. I know, speaking for myself, that there has often been a wide gap between my own longing for peace and the reality of that peace at times and in certain specific relationships, so I do not speak on this matter as someone looking down on others as much as someone seeking to understand.
Practicing peace is not a simple or straightforward matter, especially not when we are people of particularly open expression of our own beliefs. At some level, since the making of truth claims is itself exclusive, regardless of what we believe, those who have different belief systems and worldviews will recognize difference (and therefore some level of disagreement) simply by virtue of our zeal and passion in expressing and defending our own belief systems. This is true in religion, and also in politics (which is one reason why these subjects are generally not considered ‘polite conversation topics’). Civility can be maintained across such boundaries, but generally that is peacefulness with a person in a rather superficial light, and not peace in a deeper or more profound sense. That sort of peace will only come when every knee bows to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Until then, we have to deal with a world in conflict on deep and fundamental levels, and we have to accept that, even if we do not relish it.
The sort of peace we must wish and practice is a matter of some delicacy, partly because it is far easier to say than to do, and in large part because it is not our theory that will be what others will see and respond to, but rather our practice (which is likely to be far more imperfect). In many respects we must be able to combine a few different approaches that are sensitive to the people and the situations around us, showing understanding for where they come from while also sincerity about where we stand as well. This is a tricky balance to find and maintain, but a worthwhile one. On the one hand, we must love and respect all people (regardless of their feelings or actions for us) because they are beings created in the image and likeness of God and our neighbors and potential brothers and sisters. This is not always an easy task, particularly when we are dealing with people whom we believed have deeply and often wronged us. Likewise, we may not often see that our peace with other people may be harmed by the way in which they think or feel that we have wronged them, whatever our intentions in the matter. That too is an area I often puzzle over and struggle with. On the other hand, we are called to be open and honest about our worldviews and belief systems and to live lives that honor and obey God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength, and to obey Him even when it requires disobeying the laws and commands of men, which we would otherwise obey because obeying God requires respect for the authorities He places or allows.
In the larger sense, the peace we can have with others is often a matter of shades. On the one hand, so much as it depends on us, our own conversation and conduct should be honorable enough and considerate and loving enough towards others that we should at least have a basic reputation of being a kindhearted and loving person, though one who is not inconsistent or weak in our belief system for all of that. We should be known as people who are strong in doctrine, but also strong in practice, showing love for sinners even as we consistently hate sin (since anyone who loves us must also love sinners, albeit repentant ones, as well). Those whom we get along with well, with mutual understanding of our personalities and sensitivities, we can have a great deal of peace with as a result of that understanding and its results on our behavior and conduct with those people, conducted in mutual love and respect. Likewise, those with whom we have deep and fundamental agreement with (that is mutually recognized and acknowledged) also will enjoy a deep and profound level of peace that comes from the ability to be frank and open about the deepest thoughts and concerns of our mind, heart, and spirit, knowing that we will receive wise counsel and the value of a perspective that agrees with our own worldviews.
This sort of respect and peace cannot be taken for granted. I remember a situation where depression over the death of my father and a related set of deep concerns about my own life and my own early childhood led me into therapy with one of the few therapists in the Tampa Bay area who dealt with “early childhood issues” (which are a particularly thorny and difficult matter that many people like to stay away from). As it happened, this particular therapist was from a very liberal Jewish background, and her suggestions for dealing with my own struggles with intimacy were not consistent with the laws of God concerning such matters, leading to a great deal of conflict where it was deeply harmful. Whatever civility and politeness exist between people in such circumstances, there comes a point where there must be disagreement (and therefore some aspect of conflict) simply because of the difference of worldview and perspective.
There is nothing wrong with our longings for deep peace. We ought to understand, though, that our longings for such peace are signs that we long for a unity in our world that does not exist at present and that cannot exist so long as people (including ourselves) are free to decide upon our behaviors and beliefs. Only when God and His Christ are openly ruling over mankind and enforcing His laws and His ways can we expect that peace which we seek. In this time and in this life, we can expect conflict because others will choose their own ways, whether the vain traditions of their fathers, or the ways of darkness so readily visible around us. This diversity in worldviews, as well as the hurts and insecurities of those around us (and ourselves too, if we are honest with ourselves), creates many potential areas for conflict, especially if we do not understand the concerns and sensitivities of those around and act with love and consideration for others. Likewise, we must balance our deep and sincere and praiseworthy longings for peace with the understanding that sometimes we are the deepest and most profound enemies of that peace which we sincerely seek. Life is full of irony that way.