OUR BIBLICAL-THEOLOGICAL UNDERSTANDING OF PEACE
The current development in the ministry of PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) is a practical articulation of its Peace Theology—that is, advancing the Gospel of Shalom as personified in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
As we conduct Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) Seminar sessions among many Christian groups, we were becoming more aware that the Body of Christ in the Philippines is facing a number of challenges brought about by the influence of the dark side of globalization. Such negative influences include:
:: Extreme Individualism. This is the most emphasized modern cultural value being communicated in the big media, causing the family and community to be disintegrated.
:: Practical Materialism. Many families may be religious during Sunday mornings, but practicing materialists during most of the week, influenced more by commercial advertisements and greed-oriented consumerism than by biblical principles, biblical ethics, and biblical morality.
:: A Culture of Violence and War. A belief system that human conflicts and differences are ultimately resolved by the use of force; thus, justifying personal, domestic, social, and political violence.
:: A Mechanistic View of People. In opposition to the biblical view of people, a mechanistic anthropological view treats humans and the creation as machine-projects rather than living organisms that are also story-subjects. Thus, the family, the church and the community is seen as an organization to be fixed rather than an organism to be healed.
We often hear from my fellow students of theology that our discipleship processes must address the above challenges. It was during these times of theological reflection that we realize how much our shalom-convictions are so needed to help in discipling our nation.
PBCI’s church-resourcing ministry would help address these challenges.
PBCI church-resourcing and peace-building ministries start with Shalom. The Hebrew word shalom basically means, “completeness, soundness, welfare, and peace.” Completeness has the idea of being whole—that is, all the parts are connected with each other. Soundness can be understood also as safety of the body and clarity of mind. Welfare can be viewed as wellness—that is, holistic health and prosperity. Peace can be read as tranquility, contentment, and healthy relationships with God and other human beings, and thus, the absence of any hostility or war. Shalom can be summarized as the quality of life characterized by harmonious relationship with God, with our Being, with Others, and with the Creation. Shalom is a vision of life where spirituality, community, identity, and economy-ecology are harmoniously connected with each other.
PBCI church-resourcing and peace-building ministries are centered on Jesus, who is Shalom personified! Jesus is the Prince of Shalom. Jesus, the Prince of Shalom, is the center of the Good News (euanggelion). From the New Testament perspective, it is absurd to talk about “evangelizing the world” without “peacemaking in the world.” Our understanding of biblical peace is based on the unequivocal declaration that Jesus Christ is the center of life and reality, and that Christ brings the whole creation intact!
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven… (Col. 1:15-23 NIV)
PBCI church-resourcing and peace-building ministries do not separate Jesus and Peace. They both demonstrate and proclaim the Prince of Shalom through actions and words.
PBCI church-resourcing and peace-building ministries would nurture its clientele based on the idea derived from New Testament term, martyría—that is, a disciple is a martyr-witness. This is not about having a messianic complex. This is not about mere adventurism in a place of danger. This is not a search for an extreme religious experience. This has been the discipleship legacy of the Church’s martyr-leaders in the past 2000+ years. This is the kind of discipleship we need in our beautiful, but conflicted, land!
Being martyr-witnesses, first of all, means that we will love all people unconditionally and we will practice selfless love to the point of offering our lives to the people with whom we are called to live and to serve. This is exemplified in the humble life of Jesus of Nazareth whom we follow in response to His sacrificial love.
Secondly, it means that, by God’s grace, we will not lie. As witnesses to the truth we have experienced in Jesus Christ, we will initiate transparent and honest interaction with all the people concerned as we relate with them and as we formulate and implement our ministry policies.
Thirdly, being martyr-witnesses affirm that Justice is an attribute of God. Therefore, our tasks will be implemented in accordance with what is just and equitable among all people concerned.
Fourthly, it means practicing genuine forgiveness. Using the energies available to us through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will absorb the violence committed against us so that our lives may be used as servants to stop the cycle of violence within us and around us.
Finally, it means incarnating God’s peace in our lives. We will seek harmony and reconciliation with the Creator, with our Being, with Others, and with the Creation. We believe in solving problems through non-violence. By God’s grace and mercy, we will not use weapons to hurt or to kill people as a means to accomplish our dreams, mission, and objectives.
PBCI church-resourcing and peace-building ministries emphasize shalom-transformation that leads to holistic harmonious living.
Shalom is harmony with God. This is spiritual transformation. Christians are called to worship God alone, not to worship God and Mammon.
In the biblical narrative, the proper name of God, YHWH, means I am who I am or I will be who I will be. In the Jewish tradition, the proper name of God must not be uttered; instead, they substitute the term The LORD (Adonai) to refer to YHWH. This is important because it emphasizes the reality that the Creator-God is eternally present but cannot be grasped totally by any human being. God is with us, immanent; but God is also transcendent and cannot be manipulated based on human wants and needs. To worship God means acknowledging God to be at the highest position in our value system; thus, worth-ship. A community who worships YHWH recognizes that no persons or objects can be acknowledged to be at the highest position in the community’s value system and the community’s understanding of reality. For YHWH-worshippers, God is the Ultimate Reality. No attachments to persons and things, no other gods, no idolatry. Even our conception of God, including the notion of God as Ultimate Reality, even our most sophisticated theology, cannot be an object of attachment. The worship of God allows people to relate with God with freedom and liberation from any attachments.
The worship of Mammon necessarily puts money, wealth, and property as the highest position in the value system of a person or a community. Mammon-worship is necessarily expressed through an explicit and intentional attachment to things that, in the process, Mammonism actually reduces people to things by seeing their value merely as extrinsic—that is, based on exchange value. For example, in Mammon’s value system, human beings are seen as mere human resources measurable by their peso amount per time of work. Thus, the worshippers of Mammon tend to thingify people. When this is the case, people are sacrificed to the altar of money, wealth, and property. It becomes easy to oppress and exploit people when they are seen as things.
Harmony with God is acknowledging God as the Ultimate Reality. The other aspects of our life’s reality are subordinated to God. When the God of the Bible is acknowledged, such acknowledgment “requires the reordering of everything else.”1 The statement of Jesus in Matthew 6:24 is a call to reorder the lives of his followers based on the awareness that God is Ultimate Reality. In globalism, Mammon—wealth and property—is considered as the ultimate reality and the highest category in its value system. When a commitment to God is made, such commitment necessarily requires the reordering of wealth and property as subordinate to God-Reality. It means renouncing Mammon as god. In the same token, when a commitment to Mammon is made, then Mammon becomes the highest category in one’s value system and God is reordered as subordinate to wealth and power. Commitment to both is not possible. There can only be one Ultimate Reality. God-Reality does not allow other claims of ultimate reality; hence, other claimants are false claims. Commitment to false claims of reality is idolatry.
But even those who claim that they are committed to God-Reality and that wealth and power is subordinated to God-Reality, the temptation to equalize God and Mammon in our hearts is a day-to-day struggle. When we are lulled into this compromise, the tendency is idolatry. The value system of the church—its attitude towards wealth and property—must be evaluated in the light of God-Reality. The church’s value system, especially those who are in the affluent societies, must go through this Ultimate Reality check.
Shalom is harmony with our Being. This is psycho-social transformation. Identity means being a person-in-community, not a consumer-in-the-marketplace. The biblical understanding of the Self (Heb. nefesh) is so rich, far richer than the reductionist understanding of the neo-classical economic view of the self. On one hand, self can be understood as soul, living being, life, and person. On the other hand, self can also be understood as desire, appetite, emotion, and passion. The former refers to the relational-spiritual aspects of our self that we share with other human beings and with God. The latter refers to basic instincts of the self that we share with animals. When the self is merely regarded as consumer-in-the-marketplace, we limit our “self-ness” to the basic animal instincts of our humanity. We are then reduced to only one side of our “self-ness.” Hence, we are alienated from our own self and we do not experience the shalom or wholeness of the self. This alienated self is the easy target of commercial advertisements that lull and manipulate human beings to become mere consumer-in-the-marketplace. Such advertisements usually appeal to the desire, appetite, emotion, and passion.
In shalom perspective, the harmonious Self—the wholeness of soul, life, personality, desire, appetite, emotion, and passion that characterize us as living beings—leads a person to live an Abundant Life. Abundant Life is a term used in the Gospel of John (Jn. 10:10), which means living life in its fullness—spiritually, physically, socially, economically, and culturally—in the context of the community. Abundant Life is not defined by what I have but by who I am in the context of relationships. A person experiencing an abundant life regards her or his identity as a person-in-community and not as mere consumer-in-the-marketplace.
In contrast, globalism sees the Self as an isolated individual consumer who is addicted to commodity. The meaning of one’s self is determined by how much goods and services one is able to consume in order to satisfy one’s needs and wants. Relationships are mere means to satisfy one’s needs and wants.
Many churches today, especially those who are focused on “church-growth-at-all-cost,” are offering programs that would satisfy the needs and wants of church members and adherents who behave more like religious consumers rather than God worshippers. Many church programs and activities are more focused on meeting the desire to experience a sort of “spiritual high.” This is not the calling of the church.
The church is the shalom community that is called to demonstrate that it is possible to live a life of wholeness. The reduction of the self into a consumer-in-the-marketplace is not acceptable to the church. The church is the pilot community called by God to show and tell that the biblical understanding of the whole self, as a person-in-community, is possible. This possibility is experienced through the discipleship of the whole self into the cruciform life of Christ. In Christ, a person can discover what it is to be a whole human being—a person who is nurtured intellectually, physically, socially, and spiritually (Lk. 2:52).
Shalom is harmony with Others. This is social-political transformation. We are called to love others as neighbors and not to treat others as competitors.
In shalom perspective, people are called to live a communal lifestyle. In the communal lifestyle, the Other is treated as a neighbor to be loved as one’s self. The poor is embraced justly as an integral part of the community.
In contrast, globalism treats the Other as a competitor. In this perspective, one’s relationship is usually determined by the question, “How can I get ahead?” It is a competitive lifestyle. One’s relational environment becomes a rat race. Progress and growth is pictured as being in the fast lane. The successful ones are described as those who have arrived. The ones who are left behind—economically, politically, socially—were considered losers. The competitive lifestyle is considered amoral because it is seen as a necessary, rationalistic approach to relationships in the context of market capitalism.
Rationalistic approaches to relationships even crept in many religious circles. People would have to find out what kinds of people go to a certain church with a conscious or subconscious evaluative factor: “What’s in it for me?” Rationalistic decision-making that is aimed to satisfy one’s religious wants is a fact in many Christian congregations in the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila’s affluent subdivisions. When relationships are viewed based on exchange value (extrinsic value), the Other’s God-given value as one created as “very good,” fallen, and yet loved (intrinsic value), is reduced to a competitor, if not merely as a commodity. When this happens, the church may be contributing, wittingly or unwittingly, to the devaluation of human beings— from that of a person created in God’s image to that of a thing born to be used.
For the Jewish listeners of Jesus Christ, the Samaritan was the person who loved his neighbor. Neighborly love can come from Others whom we do not usually consider to be neighbors (Lk. 10: 25-37). For the followers of Jesus Christ in a globalized Philippine society, the neighbor is the Political Other (Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Communist Party of the Philippines, etc.), the Religious Other (Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Indigenous Spirituality, etc.). We can give love to them. We can receive love from them.
Shalom is harmony with the Creation. This is economic-ecological transformation. Creation, from shalom perspective, is seen as an organic-relational world, not merely as a mechanical-utilitarian world. In a mechanical-utilitarian view of the world, the emphasis is exploitation. If one of the parts of the machine-world is not functioning, the tendency is to replace it. Hence, in globalism, the natural resources can be exploited for the present, and then later, it can be substituted with technological products and solutions—that is, synthetic materials.
In an organic-relational world, the emphasis is stewardship and loving care of creation. The biblical story of Creation tells us that “the Lord God formed the mortal or adam from the dust of the ground or adamah and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life or nishmat chayim and the mortal became a living being or l’nefesh chayah.” (Gen. 2:7) Such are the imageries used to give us a grasp of the beginning of the human race. We all came from the ground. We were named after the ground. We are one with Creation. We are one humanity! We are all carbon-based material. We are all breathed with the same breath of God. That is the story of our Being Alive! When the Creator-God commanded us to subdue or kivshuha the Earth (Gen. 1:28), it has the idea of l’shamrah—to care for, to keep, to watch, and to preserve it (Gen. 2:15). Earth-destruction is listed by the Prophet John as a sin (Rev. 11:18). We are all called by the Creator-God to be stewards of Planet Earth! Christians must apply the shalom-lifestyle in the stewardship of their resources.
God cares for the whole creation, including the human species. The creation is the world that “God so loved…” (Jn. 3:16). This “world” (Gk., kosmos) can mean the sum total of everything here and now, all of humanity, or world-systems. This is also the creation that will ultimately be reconciled with Christ (Col. 1:15-20). All living things are important to God. God relates with the Creation. That is why it is important for the church to see Creation as an organic-relational world. We were created as part of the whole creation. Our shalom—our experience of wholeness—necessarily includes the whole of creation.
Based on this Shalom Theology, PBCI will serve as a catalyst group who will organize at least one Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) Community in every province of our country.
1. Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), p. 747.