I have a friend in the ministry who is a big Beatles fan. We often playfully debate philosophy and music history together. She included this quote in a recent email, and I thought I would respond.
“Get out there and get peace, think peace, live peace and breathe peace, and you’ll get it as soon as you like.”
I have thoughts about your John Lennon quote.
Now, I know that you don’t just quote him because of his philosophy, but mostly because you are a big Beatles fan…
We have the extreme luxury of being one of the few generations to grow up with almost no understanding of war. Yes, in my lifetime there has been the Iraq war, Kosovo, Iraq 2, War on terror, and other small conflicts. But those weren’t of the scale or effect of wars in past generations. Wars now are things we hear about on the evening news, not things that actually claim the lives of our friends and relatives (for the most part).
Think back on what it must have been like to live through WW2. Germans were using their submarines to destroy ships off of the East coast. Hundreds of ships were sunk right off of our coast–even passenger cruise ships. Japan attacked HI and we were under constant threat of invasion on the West coast. At one point late in the war Japan launched helium balloons with bombs attached into the air. Those fell in Alaska, but no one was ever hurt from them.
Women in America couldn’t buy leggings (which were a fashion essential back then) because the fabric was needed for parachutes. Other things that were rationed state-side: tires (most people couldn’t buy them), many cosmetics, gas, cars, certain grocery products. Women and children saved money for the government war effort. Cities had “bomb drills” where everyone turned off all the lights and hid in their closets and basements. It was a difficult and scary time. This all is not to mention the fact that we were fighting a war on two fronts (Japan and the Axis powers of Europe), and there was the very real possibility for much of the war that we could lose.
Why did all of this happen? Evil. When Hitler invaded Poland and Austria the British PM, Neville Chamberlain said “We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a program would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators.” He signed a peace treaty with Germany, allowing them to keep Poland, Austria, and giving them parts of Czechoslovakia and said “I believe it is peace for our time…peace with honor.” Merely months later, Germany attacked France and Britain.
Fast forward to the 1960’s: America was involved in a war that we probably shouldn’t have been involved in, Vietnam. It was a very unpopular war. We weren’t fighting in a way that we could win, and against an enemy we couldn’t really identify. Young men all over America lived under the real threat that they could be shipped off to Asia to fight in a war that they didn’t really believe in. Those that went either came home in body bags, or with permanent mental and emotional scars.
In response to this artists started talking about peace and love, and how if everyone just gave peace a chance, we could create a world without sorrow, greed, or war. There is an amazing truth to that. If everyone gave peace and love a chance, that is what would happen. That is our view of heaven, really. “The wolf will live with the lamb…the lion and the yearling together…and a child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6). Peace. Perfect.
On a plane flight recently I saw a movie called The Invention of Lying. It isn’t a movie that I can recommend you see, but like most things I watch, I see a tie in to the cosmic and spiritual reality that surrounds us. In the movie Ricky Gervais’ character lives in a world where no one has ever lied. The concept of telling a falsehood has just never been thought of. Somehow he accidentally figures this out. Hilarity ensues. He ends up using this power to take advantage of everyone around him. He uses it to their detriment and his benefit.
The reason I mention this example is that if we all decided to live in a world with no guns, no army, no violence, none of that would actually be what would happen. Instead we would live in a world where someone, somewhere would realize that suddenly he/she had the power to steal everything from us and hurt us. We would be led off to slaughter like sheep. The end result would be a world of slavery and pain—War and chaos, not peace and love.
The only way for this heaven to come about would be for all to place control in the hands of a being who both has ultimate power, and is permanently incorruptible, a king who is perfectly benevolent. I wait for that day. A day when all can lay down arms with no possibility of violence propagated against us.
This cannot happen as long as there is sin in the world. Sin is at its heart selfishness. Anytime we say “but I want…” we are walking a path toward sin. This does not mean that we should have an ascetic view and allow ourselves to be beaten down by evil under the guise of living Christianly, either. In fact, the Bible tells us that we are in a war. That we must fight. Our war is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil that exist around us.
Throughout the last 2000 years there has been a dichotomy between those who cling to Jesus world as a call to embody peace, over and against those Old Testament passages where God tells the Israelites to war against other peoples. This dichotomy is usually a false one. Jesus gave great instruction to Christians to be known as those who turn the other cheek (which if you study is actually a course in radical non-violent resistance—read Martin Luther King), and to be known by our love. We cannot believe that Jesus intended that message to mean that countries never defended themselves against hostile forces. Think about this: what would Jesus want Neville Chamberlain or FDR to have done in 1938-1940? Would he have had them sign peace agreement after peace agreement while Hitler came marching through Europe killing millions? I don’t think so. Either way, it isn’t as simple as ‘think happy thoughts and buy Hitler a coke.’
Artists and musicians often live in an idealized world of symbolism, beauty, and absolutes. But the world is seldom a thing of perfect beauty or absolutes. We are all shades of grey, striving to become repristinated, yes all the while getting a little grayer. When the musician sees the world as different from their dream, it seems out-of-joint and wrong. That is the greatest truth. The world is a marred painting. We can see the beauty there, but we are all ever-aware that some black stain has covered its surface. Sadly, we cannot paint it back to perfect. We cannot remove the stain, only try and cover it with something much less than the original, and every attempt reminds us all the more that it is not as perfect as it was intended. Trying to fix the problems of violence and pain with anything other than the rule and reign of Christ is just as effective as trying to paint the grass greener or the sky bluer.