Advent: Peace or Conflict?

Abraham Hondius, Annunciation to the Shepherds (1663)

When the angels announced the birth of our Lord to the shepherds, they noted that this incarnation of God would bring “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” (Lk. 2:14). This oft-repeated Christmastime pledge warms the hearts of Christians and even many non-Christians who bemoan the obvious and ubiquitous conflict in our world. There is hope that in Jesus Christ, this conflict will be permanently quieted. 

Yet when he commissioned his apostles, Jesus told them that he did not come “to bring peace but a sword” (Mt. 10:34). The contradiction is only apparent, not actual. The resolution is found in this truth: God promises peace in his Son’s Advent, but only on his terms. God isn’t interested in granting peace to a fallen world at war with his purposes. God is only interested in shaking a fallen world, and only when the sin has finally been shaken off, will he bring global peace.

The Peace the Wicked Seek

The wicked often seek peace, but they seek it on their own terms. They want peace to live their rebellious, depraved, apostate lives. God doesn’t grant it. We should be neither deceived nor mocked. Whatever a person sows, that is what he reaps (Gal. 6:7–8). The wicked live a life of greed and debauchery, deception and sexual rapacity; and they bear in their minds and bodies the consequences of their sin. They long for peace, but they cannot find it.

And after awhile, they fume, as it were, to the Almighty, righteous God, “Why don’t you leave us alone and let us live in peace in our world?

And he responds, “Because it’s not your world. It’s my world, and I won’t leave it in peace until it returns to my righteous ways.” C. S. Lewis suggests that this is why God calls his people to be militant, not peaceful, in this sinful world:

… Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world — that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of his head’ as a man makes up story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.

From Mere Christianity

God is loudly insisting on getting his way, and he won’t give the sinful world peace; no, he will unleash conflict on the sinful world until he gets his way.

Our Sinfully Conflicted World

Our world seems constantly in conflict. It’s hard to compare today’s chaos, violence, terror, anger, fatal accidents, suicides, hatred, perversion, and apostasy to that of the past. Maybe it’s just that we know more about these things because of the 24/7 new cycle or our ubiquitous smartphones.

C. S. Lewis

Whatever the case, our world is deeply shaken: Iran preparing to go to war, North Korea building nuclear weapons, England pulling out of the EU, tribal wars in Africa, child sex slavery, opioid epidemics, and I could go on and on. It’s not just that we know about these shaking events; with the advent of computers and smartphones, we can see palpable images of many of them. It seems as though they’re happening right next to us.

Obviously, this conflict can provoke in us fear, worry, and anxiety. Some people live almost their entire lives that way, even Christians. They get up in the morning to check their smartphones to find out what new thing that can worry about, and then they’re distraught that they’re worried all the time.

The wicked often seek peace, but they seek it on their own terms. They want peace to live their rebellious, depraved, apostate lives. God doesn’t grant it.

The most important fact to know about all of these earthshaking, anxiety-producing events is this: God is behind the shaking conflict. God is shaking the heavens and the earth in this new covenant era (Heb. 12:18–29). The shaking will do its final work only at Christ’s second advent, but he is shaking the world even now.  This is true even if the wicked are unleashing the shaking. It doesn’t mean that God is the author of sin; he doesn’t force terrorists and abortionists and child sex traffickers to unleash their evil. Perish the thought. But the shaking that their sin causes is part of his plan to do one thing: get rid of the sin. God asks Job rhetorically:

“… Have you commanded the morning since your days began, [a]nd caused the dawn to know its place, That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, [a]nd the wicked be shaken out of it?” (emphasis supplied)

Job 38:12–13

For this reason, we believers need not fear this nearly constant divine shaking. We should be happy about, in fact. We shouldn’t want a peaceful world if that peaceful world is sinful. Sin derails, demolishes, and damns. Sin is the great enemy of God’s good creational purposes. To desire peace for a sinful world is to long for the victory of sin. That is not a desire God will ever honor.

So when we observe wars, and political strife in Washington D.C., and diseases and even death, we can and should grieve over the suffering, but we cannot grieve over God’s earth-quaking purposes. All the shaking in the world means that God is not giving sinful man his way.  “The way of transgressors is hard,” we read in Proverbs 13:15. It is hard for Saul the persecutor to kick against God’s goads (Ac. 9:5). God doesn’t make it easy for the wicked, and we should find great comfort in this truth.

We should delight in all of the conflict that surrounds us. It means that God is not allowing the sinful world to go on its merry way.

Conclusion

Jesus tells his disciples (and us), “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). The internal peace that should fill the hearts of believers because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will one day overwhelm the world by the pervasive power of that same Gospel. The objective of the present conflict unleashed by our Triune God to purge sin is nothing short of global peace — peace on his terms. This is very different from the Marxists who, following Hegel, see conflict as an end in itself, a permanent revolution. God launched the conflict when sin entered the world in Eden, promising hostility between the seed of the serpent and the Seed of the woman until Jesus Christ crushed Satan’s head. He did that definitively at Calvary, but the implications of that momentous, head-crushing victory work their way out in time and history (Heb. 1:8).

This Christmas, peace can reign in our heart because our God will not bring peace to our fallen world until he has purged it of the sin and rebellion that alone make the conflict necessary. If you love righteousness, you’ll love only a righteous peace. That is the peace God promises to his people now and his created world for the future.


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