the Empathy List #114: Is "Peace On Earth" Possible?
Or a delusional Utopian fever dream?
Hello friend, Liz here.
This week,invited me to write for her newsletter, alongside her, and (upcoming) in a celebration of Advent.
I liked what I wrote so much that I wanted to share it with you here, too. “Liked” might be the wrong word — I was considering peace and war amid a season where God has already promised peace on Earth.
So, how do we span the chasm between our reality and God’s promise? I found the exploration heartening. I hope you will, too.
Would you also consider sharing and subscribing to the Substacks of the other writers with whom I’ve collaborated? They’re thoughtful, smart Christian women who you’d like if you like what I’m doing here. ;-)
Thanks for reading, my friends.
Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
As I write, two wars rage abroad. Half a million people have been killed or wounded as Ukraine and Russia battle. Over 16,000 have died in the Gaza-Israel conflict, and of those Palestinians killed, 4 in 10 were children. The theme of the second week of Advent—peace—hits differently amid this landscape.
I have only ever witnessed war as mediated through screens—photos, text, video. I’ve never heard a kamikaze drone scream above my head. I’ve never felt the concrete walls of my apartment collapse around me, have never needed to learn the names of modern weaponry beyond the parlance of movies. I am no vilomah, no childless mother.
Even though war has only touched my life from a great distance, my nation has participated in every war of the past century. American politicians have provided funds, supplies, and weapons to its allies so that, even if I call myself a pacifist, I am an individual pacifist within a country dependent upon war. So, what does a creed like mine offer to the bleeding out, blown apart and kidnapped, to the targeted and murdered? Is peace only an impotent Utopian fantasy?
On the day of Christ’s birth in a barn, the angels proclaimed “peace on Earth” to a group of shepherds. These Hebrew shepherds had only known subjugation to cruel empires. Their forefathers, too, had fought in perpetual wars. For that reason, the Bible beats peace as a constant refrain. The people request peace from God; God promises peace; and peace never arrives.
Or at least, a certain peace never arrived. If the Hebrews meant “peace” as policy, as governmental reform, as “our side winning,” then God failed them. Yet the Bible’s version of peace is not centered on politics and candidates. Nor is peace a landscape, a “no war zone.” Peace, according to the Bible, arrives through a people, a person. Peace is not the absence of war, pain, and death. Instead, peace is a presence. Peace is fullness and wholeness. Peace is so much more than the equal distribution of power.
To understand the Biblical ideal of peace, consider for a moment the Catholic philosopher and activist Simone Weil.
Educated in one of France’s elite universities in the 1920s and '30s with Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and other French philosophers as her peers, she nevertheless intimidated these classmates with her moral intensity. (They nicknamed her “the Categorical Imperative in a Skirt”).
De Beauvoir has recounted a time when Weil lectured in the school courtyard, saying that the best way to feed the poor was to instigate economic revolution. De Beauvoir made the mistake of interrupting Weil and countered that what the proletariat really needed was meaning for their lives.
Weil replied frostily: “It is clear that you have never gone hungry.”
Weil would not allow a daughter of the French bourgeois to define the policy of the poor, thank you very much.
Ironically, Weil herself had grown up within the upper classes. Yet she spent the rest of her life determined to understand the least and lowest in her society, inspired by the “action philosophy” of her mentor, Alain. So, rather than take advantage of her favored upbringing, she labored on a Parisian factory line. Though she was a pacifist, she voluntarily drafted herself into the Spanish War, where she served in the trenches. Then, after she'd injured herself, she worked on a farm alongside peasant harvesters and wrote fervently on the cause of resistance.
As World War II encroached, her Jewish family forced her to flee France. Yet she could not stand to remain distant from the suffering on the front line. So, a refugee in London, she proposed leading a squad of nurses to parachute into German-occupied France to provide medical care and inspiration for the Allied troops. When the French military rejected her proposal, she determined to share in the suffering of the war-torn by another means.
From her English hospital bed, sick with Tuberculosis, she fasted. She ate only as much as was rationed to British soldiers, or sometimes, she ate nothing at all. She told her doctor that she could not bear to feast while those still in France were starving in their homes. Her decision to embody total empathy resulted in her death from TB and cardiac arrest due to starvation.
In a meaningful way, Weil never truly gave up pacifism. Her version of peace had morphed to look like suffering alongside. It looked like bearing God’s care within her own body. It looked like Immanuel, God with us, God descending as human and walking around as the embodiment of peace, the Kingdom of God at hand.
I do pray for universal peace. God does promise to end war, pain, and death one day. But for today, peace comes quietly, individually, humbly. What I mean is, peace arrives through us. We are the bearers of peace to each other, just as Christ first became peace to us. “…In me you may have peace,” says Jesus. “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV) The world does not need a conqueror, but a child. To find peace, we must become like him.
Read the Rest of this Advent Series at Sarah Southern’s Substack, Wild + Waste.
12/3: Hope by()
12/10: Peace byLiz Charlotte Grant
12/17: Love bySara Billups()
12/24: Joy by Sarah Southern()