Why are people—and nations—unable to live together in peace? Why, in our modern, affluent, educated, technologically advanced 21st century is the search for peace—among nations and between individuals—such a difficult and seemingly unattainable goal? Is there something we have overlooked?
Have you ever wondered why people and nations cannot live together in peace? World leaders search for peace. Religious people pray for peace. Conferences are held to promote peace. Yet the sobering daily reality for millions of people around the world remains: hatred, strife, violence, war, anxiety, misery and suffering! It is a global problem. The Middle East is a powder keg of hatred and violence. The Balkans have been a bloodbath again and again throughout history. Murder and mayhem scar much of the vast continent of Africa. Central Asia simmers with strife and intrigue. Southeast Asia is embroiled in revolts and troubles. India and Pakistan bristle with atomic weapons. China and Taiwan confront each other with armed determination. Japan and Korea have a long history of strife. Bottled up hatreds explode in Northern Ireland. Central and South America are convulsed periodically by violent revolutionary movements. The United States is increasingly at odds with its European cousins, and the nations of Europe have a history of bloody, internal squabbles. Even in momentarily peaceful parts of the world, people worry about crime, abduction, rape, robbery, domestic violence and divorce. The desire for peace is universal, yet the quest for peace in the world is as elusive as the quest for real peace of mind.
We need to ask: why, in our modern, affluent, educated, technologically advanced 21st century is the search for peace—among nations and between individuals—such a difficult and seemingly unattainable goal? Is there something we do not know or have overlooked? Are there key concepts we have not been taught—or do not understand? Is there a missing dimension that has eluded the wisest and most brilliant human minds? Incredible as it may seem today, the Bible contains answers to many of these vital questions. Scripture reveals reasons why the world is such a violent place and why the best efforts of human beings have failed to achieve the peace we so earnestly crave. The Bible outlines a role that you can play to change the course of history and help bring peace to this troubled world. Scripture also holds the key to finding real peace of mind. If you have the courage and the desire to make a difference, you can understand the missing dimension in the search for peace!
Perhaps the best way to illustrate this missing dimension is to quickly review human efforts to achieve peace in the world. For thousands of years men have sought to establish peace through military strength. George Washington, the first President of the United States, reflected the wisdom of his day when he said that "to be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace"—yet his efforts did not produce a lasting peace. History indicates the cost of maintaining armed forces to protect territory or police the world eventually saps the strength of even the mightiest empires—witness Rome, Spain, France, Britain and America. Others have believed that "the path to peace is through the crucible of war," yet that has also proven to be a flawed philosophy. Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung once remarked that "war can only be abolished through war—to get rid of the gun you must take up the gun." Yet in spite of giving guns to hundreds of thousands, he never found the way to peace. World War I was to be the "war to end wars"—but it was only a prelude to World War II—the war fought "to make the world safe for democracy." And the world is still not safe for democracy. Some today would ban private ownership of guns in an effort to eliminate hostilities and war. Overlooked is the fact that the misuse of legal weapons by governments has killed more than 170 million unarmed civilians during the 20th century (NewsMax.com, July 10, 2001).
Sincere individuals have sought peace through negotiation, arbitration and promoting resolutions for peace. In 1899 and 1907, world leaders met in The Hague, Netherlands, to explore the way to peace. They established the International Court of Justice—a world court to arbitrate disputes among nations—and built an ornate and expensively appointed Peace Palace, which still operates, to house the court and its extensive library of international law. Yet all this effort did not prevent two World Wars, nor the many other conflicts that marred the 20th century. Global organizations like the League of Nations and the United Nations have failed to prevent war or eliminate conflicts. In August 2000, more than 1,000 religious leaders gathered in New York for the Millennium Peace Summit to talk about peace, yet the meeting was marked by boycotts and disputes among the participants (Arizona Republic, August 30, 2000).
Today it is popular to attribute the lack of peace to poverty, inequality, social injustice and environmental degradation. Yet some who are poor are more peaceful—and have more peace of mind—than many rich people. Attempts to legislate equality have engendered even more strife. Ordaining women to the ministry or priesthood has divided many churches. Promoting the social acceptance of homosexuality has fostered high-risk sexual behavior and undermined traditional morality. Making divorce easier has had a devastating impact on the stability of families. "Make love, not war"—the slogan of peace-loving hippies in the sixties—sounded intriguing, but was a prescription for promiscuity that contributed to the spread of sexually transmitted disease. After centuries of effort by some of the best minds on earth, the quest for peace is still a frustratingly elusive goal. Scripture reveals why.
Many today consider the Bible no more than a collection of myths, stories and outdated ideas. Yet it claims to be the inspired Word of God, with information unavailable from any other source. And it shows a definite contrast between human ideas about peace and what the Creator of mankind reveals about the subject. Men have proclaimed that the way to peace is through the force of arms, yet Jesus Christ taught, "all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). Human beings can generate a myriad of reasons for killing other human beings in the quest for peace, yet the Bible plainly states, "thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13, KJV). Civilized, cultured and educated individuals hold dialogues, plan conferences and draft resolutions to promote peace. Political leaders negotiate and governments legislate. Religious leaders preach and pray for peace. God, however, reveals that "the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). The Bible, God's instruction book for mankind, indicates that we need divine guidance to solve our problems. We need to follow His instructions, not our own reasoning.
Bible prophecy shows that the desire for peace will be great as the end of the age approaches (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11–15; 14:13–15). However, misguided human efforts to establish peace will be futile, and "the ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly" (Isaiah 33:7). In a letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul explains the reason for this frustrating situation, noting that "the way of peace they have not known" (Romans 3:17). Paul was quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who wrote: "They have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace" (Isaiah 59:8). Jesus said that human beings do not know the way to peace because, "the things that make for your peace… they are hidden from your eyes" (Luke 19:42). Scripture reveals that human beings, seeking peace by following their own reasoning, are actually blinded from understanding the true way to peace! Yet that knowledge—of the true way to peace and the real cause of war and strife—is readily available to us if we have eyes to see.
While the Bible recognizes the importance of using wisdom and diplomacy in avoiding conflict and promoting peace (Matthew 5:25), it outlines a very specific path to peace. God told the ancient nation of Israel "if you walk in my statutes and keep my commandments… I will give peace in the land" (Leviticus 26:3–6). The Bible reveals that obedience to God's instructions is the key to peace. This theme runs throughout the Bible. David wrote in the Psalms, "great peace have those who love Your law" (Psalm 119:165). Many believers today—especially professing Christians—talk about loving God, yet they reason around obeying His laws. You have heard the arguments: Christ did away with the law; the law is part of the Old Testament and no longer applies today, or that Christians are under grace and not law. These arguments simply overlook what Scripture plainly reveals—that the way to find peace of mind, and establish a real foundation for peace among nations, is to learn and obey the laws of God. Solomon, a ruler renowned for his God-given wisdom, advised: "My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you" (Proverbs 3:1–2). As a ruler, Solomon upheld God's law, and urged others to keep it!
Modern critics have persuaded many to discount the value of the Bible as a trustworthy guide to human affairs. International law and attempts to promote peace today are based on human reason and the ideas of men. What God has revealed in the Bible about peace is ignored. Yet David was inspired to write: "Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies… Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:98, 105). David knew the value of God's laws. Today we have forgotten what God has revealed, and we are groping around in the dark, exploring blind alleys in our never-ending search for peace. This is why the quest for peace has been such a difficult and frustrating endeavor. The way to peace will not be found through human reason, extensive dialogue or endless negotiations. Lasting peace—among nations and between individuals—comes from learning to live according to the way of life outlined in Scripture.
While many intellectuals call poverty, injustice and inequality the causes of strife, violence and war, these are in fact only symptoms. The Bible addresses the real source of mankind's inability to get along. James, the brother of Jesus, was inspired to write: "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:1–3). According to the word of God, strife comes from wanting to have our own way. Solomon wrote that contention is the result of pride, "but with the well-advised is wisdom" (Proverbs 13:10). Those who understand and live by the Bible can avoid much conflict and can make real progress toward peace.
The path to lasting peace requires an understanding of human behavior that goes beyond what psychologists can discover. The Apostle Paul explained that "the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). He is describing here the workings of the physical human mind not influenced by God's Holy Spirit. That human mind may believe in God, and may even claim to love God, but it will argue and come up with reasons why it is not necessary to obey the plain, simple instructions of the Bible. This is caused by Satan's influence (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 12:9). For peace to become a reality in the world, this fundamental aspect of human behavior must be changed. We must learn to think differently, and be guided by the Word of God.
Critics may scoff at this suggestion, but perceptive individuals have come to the same conclusion. Former U. S. President Ronald Reagan once stated that "lasting peace cannot be secured through the strength of arms alone." At the conclusion of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur made a profound observation in a radio broadcast to the American people: "Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations… Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn have failed… We have had our last chance. If we do not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem is basically theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character… it must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh" (Reminiscences, p. 276). General MacArthur's comments are echoed in the constitution of UNESCO, a United Nations agency that declares: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed." These statements agree with the Bible, and make no mention of poverty, injustice or inequality as the cause of strife. But just how will this crucial transformation of human character occur?
The Peace Palace is located in the Hague—the political and royal capital city of the Netherlands. This imposing Gothic structure was built in 1913 with funds provided by Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish philanthropist who made his fortune in America. Its exquisite furnishings were donated by nations from around the world. Builders created a veritable "temple" of peace, featuring inlaid floors in marble corridors lined with sculptures, council chambers ornamented with carved wood paneling, large and sympolic paintings and tapestries, stained glass and guilded crystal chandeliers.
The promoters of the Hague Peace Conference hoped that negotiation and arbitration would be able to resolve conflicts and prevent war. They hoped to promote a culture of peace by promoting justice, education, arts and sciences. The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice in the 21st Century carries on many of the same themes. In May of 1999, 10,000 representatives from 100 countries (the largest international peace conference in history) met in The Hague to discuss ways to abolish war and promote peace. Regrettably, as the search for peace goes on,wars continue—because a vital missing dimension is overlooked.
Scripture clearly indicates that Jesus Christ is coming back to this earth (John 14:1–3; Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7) to establish His kingdom that will rule over the nations (Revelation 11:15–17; Daniel 2:44–45). This is what the gospel is about (see Mark 1:14–15). Prophecy indicates that the Messiah will return "to give light to those who sit in darkness and… guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79). Jesus Christ is called the "Prince of Peace" and we are told that "of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end" (Isaiah 9:6–7). Walking through the Peace Palace in the Netherlands, one notices that the goddess of Justice figures prominently in the symbolism of tapestries and sculptures, while a statue representing Jesus has been located inconspicuously to avoid offending non-Christians. This illustrates the perverse human tendency to place hope in idols and human reason rather than believe and follow the teachings of the One who will actually bring peace to this earth!
God's method for promoting peace "in the latter days" is also described in the Bible. Isaiah prophesied: "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations and shall rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:3–4). Referring to the modern-day descendants of ancient Israel, humbled by a period of captivity at the end of this age, God says that "I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them… that they may walk in My statutes and keep my judgments" (Ezekiel 11:19–20). This is how the fundamental change in human character that General MacArthur and others have seen as the prerequisite for world peace will begin to occur.
But just what does the subject of world peace have to do with you? What can you do to change the course of history in ways that even President Reagan and General MacArthur could not? When Jesus Christ returns to this earth, "the kingdom [of God] and dominion [rulership], and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High" (Daniel 7:27). The saints are those God is calling now to understand His plan and purpose, and who are willing to come out of this world and learn to live according to the laws of God (see 1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 2:38–40). Their reward will be to reign on this earth under Jesus Christ as kings and priests—civil and spiritual leaders (Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 11:18). Working as a team with and under Jesus Christ, the saints will be the teachers who will explain the laws of God to mankind, saying, "this is the way, walk in it" (Isaiah 30:20–21). Because of their efforts, the real foundation for lasting peace will be established.
You can prepare now for important responsibilities in the coming kingdom of God. Learn the lessons of history. Study what the Bible reveals about the way to peace. Learn to live by the laws of God found in the Bible. Read the book of Proverbs, and begin to apply the principles that resolve conflicts and promote peace. Think about how these principles can be used to solve problems in the world today. Develop the skills of a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9) so you will be able to assist Jesus Christ when He returns to restore peace to this troubled world.