This past Saturday was a long and tiring day. I went to bed early, and awoke to a Sunday that was pretty much like any other, arriving at church several minutes before the service began.
And then the worship pastor announced what I had not yet heard. In the worst act of domestic terrorism since 9/11, a heavily armed shooter entered an Orlando nightclub and killed fifty patrons. Another fifty-three were wounded. The gunman, who was killed in an ensuing shootout with police, had earlier claimed allegiance to ISIS.
Hearing the news, I was both astonished and heartbroken. This is not the way the world is supposed to be.
“Pray for peace,” the worship pastor urged, and rightly so. Pray for healing. Pray for the Holy Spirit to mobilize the churches in that community to reach out in mercy.
But we should also take a moment to remind ourselves: peace isn’t just something you pray for. It’s something you make. And every Christian in every community is called to make peace.
Understandably, the attention of the entire nation can be riveted by such blatant acts of hatred and violence. Can we prevent them? Some, perhaps, but not all. Obviously, our security measures are by no means foolproof. As has been said over and over, the FBI had interrogated this man three times and let him walk. It’s easy to say in hindsight that somehow they should have known he would do this, should have found some reason to detain him. Perhaps. But there’s always the next guy. The task of national security is an enormous one, and whatever the solution might be, it is not to bring our nation step by step closer to a police state.
Our vocation as followers of Jesus is not just to pray for peace when extreme violence strikes. It is to make peace (e.g., Matt 5:9), to be channels of God’s shalom — of flourishing and wholeness — to be people who act and speak in ways that bring peace to every situation.
Hatred and violence are everywhere, expressed in everyday forms that will never make the evening news. How do we respond when someone cuts us off on the freeway? When someone whom we supposedly love hurts or offends us? We don’t have to grab a gun to do violence to another, nor even beat them with our fists. We use words like cudgels and stab people with gossip. We look at others with contempt and feel self-righteously justified in doing so. If looks could kill, we’d be mass murderers, the whole lot of us.
All of this is sin.
To be a peacemaker means grieving not only over the lives lost to terrorism, but the sin and violence in our own lives and hearts.
It means envisioning what would please God in every one of our relationships, and doing that.
It means having hearts that are simultaneously broken and yet full of hope — because every act of peace done in the name and Spirit of Jesus is a testament to the fact that the God of the universe has not abandoned our broken world.
So, yes, pray for peace. Pray for the victims of hatred and violence everywhere, for their families, for their communities.
Then dedicate yourself to being a person who makes peace, even if in small ways that never get the attention of the media. God knows, and weaves such acts of shalom into the fabric of his redemptive work. And that’s what matters.