Careful what you wish for…
2 Thessalonians 3:16
Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.
Peace by all means.
There are two groups of people fighting against each other, destroying property and killing. It looks as though they will never get along with each other and the fighting won’t end, the warring won’t stop, until one group has completely annihilated the other. We could say that there will be no peace until one side is dead. But, is that peace? Or is it merely the cessation of fighting?
A third group might get involved in the fight, before that terminally decisive end, and try to find a way to bring about a cease-fire without the annihilation of a people. That third group will come into the fight with their own weapons and tools, their own fighting, and beat the two groups into submission, forcing them to make peace with one another. But – is this really peace? Or is it merely the putting down of guns?
If peace is defined by the absence of war, then peace is only a mediocre, lukewarm kind of state, with nothing truly noble in it. It would be akin to defining the absence of hate as apathy. The absence of love can also be defined as apathy. Do we want an apathetic world?
I’ve often thought that the cooling down of violence in Ireland has not been brought about by wondrous peacemakers and and a true acceptance of each other’s differences, a true love of one another. No. I think that the growing “peace” in Ireland is a result of cultural and religious apathy. The economic situation in Ireland has improved, and, so, people are enjoying more jobs and more money. The focus is on the increased availability of wealth and the things that it can do – not on love of neighbor. If an Irishman doesn’t have to compete with his neighbor over a limited number of jobs or resources, then there’s no reason to fight. Because, really, the reason for the violence wasn’t so much cultural or religious – it was always about finances. The great cause for which the young willingly gave their lives, for which countless civilians were killed – this great cause was not of the heart, or of the soul, or even of the mind, it was always of the wallet.
And it is easy to think (rather cynically, I admit) the same about every war in every region, across the world, throughout history. If the belly is full and the senses are sufficiently entertained, then the people are at peace. It’s the “bread and circus” mentality of life. We can see the truth of it when we examine the unrest caused by the desperation of the poor or the reckless boredom of the rich – but it is much more difficult to see when we are in the midst of this bread and circus peace.
We, of the middle class, who can pay our budget-wise bills without worry and still have enough for big-screen TVs, take out, and twice yearly vacations, with the occasional bungee jump and impulse purchase thrown in – we have no cause to amass a militia and start a war. Hungry, desperately poor people who are that way because they are being seriously oppressed may have cause to start war – but no one else. The crazy people in civilized countries who do that sort of thing are, well, crazy. They’re either zealous nuts who believe in the rapture, or Armageddon, or seven virgins in Paradise, or some other superstitious drivel like that. Or, they are ruthless power mongers, monstrous villains, bent on world domination. Or they are seriously mentally ill. Perhaps they are combination of all three. If only someone could calm them down by enlightening them away from religion, getting them to talk to a trained therapist, or making sure that they are well medicated, then, maybe, we could have peace. Make sure everyone has enough to eat and that premium cable channels, antidepressants and cosmetic surgery are available to everyone and then we will live in a civilized and peaceful world. [Insert your sarcastic and cynical take here. Well, actually, at the bottom of this post.]
The problem is, of course, that human beings will always long for something more. Not just more food, more money, more pleasure, and more fun – but also more… How many humans have asked themselves, and anyone listening, the timeless question: “Is this all there is?” Not, “is this all the chicken there is?” or “is this all the bonus pay?” or “is this all the orgasm?” or “is this all the tequila?” or “is this all the comedy?” Well, yes, people ask those questions, too. But, these are finite things and, so, naturally, they are limited in supply. They are also limited in results. Chicken, bonuses, orgasms, tequila, and comedic acts can only do so much for the human person. The purpose of life is not to amass as much as possible so that there are no gaps or lapses. No, in fact, if one is able to live one’s life this way, then one will always be stuffed and entertained and, therefore, oblivious to want. And the absence of want is not joy. The absence of want is not plenty.
When I was little (and sometimes still, now) I would ask my father for something by saying that I wanted or would like it. To which he would respond with two alternate phrases: “Now you know what it’s like to want,” and, “It’s good to want.” I always thought he was just being annoying for the fun of pushing my buttons. And, yes, in a way, he was. But, he was also right. If I had everything that I ever wanted before I could even ask for it – before I even knew that I wanted it – then I wouldn’t be happy. I would be surviving very easily and perpetually entertained, but I wouldn’t know satisfaction and I wouldn’t know joy.
Now, I’m not saying that the poor are blessed because they wake up every morning with hungry stomachs and go to bed every night with their stomachs still wanting. No. But, when anyone wakes up with a hungry stomach, that first bite of food is extra delicious, isn’t it? In strictly financial terms, a good or service gains no appreciation in value if there is an overabundance of supply of that good or service. In fact, if supply is low and demand is high, then that is good or service has great value. Appreciation grows when there is want. So, yes, it was good for me, as a child, to want something to eat or to want a toy – for, then, my appreciation for that food and that toy grew.
What am I trying to say with all of this?… What am I trying to say with all of this…? The very fact that we can imagine the infinite opens up our longing for it. Finite goods and services – no matter how wanted or how plentifully received – can not give us the ultimate fullness of joy. It is good to feed the body. And it is good to feed the mind. And it is also very good to feed the heart and soul. Material things aren’t bad. In truth, material things are good. But… What do we do with them? If we use material things to numb us to the fullness of reality – to blind and deafen us to spiritual things – then we are making very bad choices. We’re getting it all wrong. Think of the arrogance, the patronizing condescension of those high and mighty rulers who planned bread and circus to keep their people “at peace.” Do we really think that God is like one of them? He hears us wishing and praying for material things, for material comforts and material pleasures, and He does not turn away in hoity-toity disgust. No, God understands our material needs – better than we even do ourselves. God does not want a child to starve to death. God sees the overfeeding of one child’s belly and the under feeding of another’s, and the solution to the problem should be obvious to us. But it’s not. Because we’re blinded by bread and circus. God wants to give us good things and for us to use those good things well in loving service to ourselves and to our neighbors, to all of our fellow human beings. And God also knows that the best thing is no thing. God did not make us solely for the material. God also made us for the spiritual, for the eternal and the infinite. God made us for… God.
God wants us to be fully satisfied and fully joyful – and God knows bread and circus won’t cut it. God hears us pray for peace and knows that true peace is not merely the absence of wanting. Sometimes, in order for us to know true peace we have to have our eyes and ears opened wide, opened wide with wanting, with sorrow and grief. It is in the stillness and the silence that we are able to be open and receive the infinite goodness that God is pouring down on to us. If we are too stuffed and occupied here and now on this earth, we will never know this earth for the fullness of what it is – we will never know ourselves or one another for the fullness that we are – we will never know what it truly is to be fully human and fully alive. God will grant us peace… peace by all means.
© 2014 Christina Chase