A Provocation: Sixth Sunday of Easter: John 14:23-29

14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

14:28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.

Some Questions:

  1. Peace? Seriously?
  2. What does the absence of the messiah have to do with peace?

Some Longer Reflections:

If the peace that Jesus gives is a contented inner peace that is undisturbed by the violence of the real world, I do not want this peace.

To be sure, Jesus does NOT say that this is the peace he gives, but generations of preachers and interpreters have said exactly that.  Or implied it.  Or spent most of their theological time thinking about peace with God and ignoring the peace that makes the world safe for children.

Perhaps “peace with God” is the only sure path to peace with each other.

Perhaps.

But this notion sails dangerously close to the rocks of ideology: If everyone just were to recognize that my group is correct, everything would be just fine.

We do not need such peace, if only because the peace that comes with arrogant ideology is no peace at all.  If subjugation to Us (for any “Us”) is the price of peace, very few of Them will be willing to pay this price.  We wouldn’t.  And we know it.

Perhaps that is the key.

If Jesus is meaning to reassure people when he claims that it is a good thing for the messiah to depart, perhaps so as to negotiate a heavenly, spiritual peace, I’m not reassured.  I’m still not convinced that a “heavenly, spiritual peace” isn’t the opiate that Marx said it was, a bait-and-switch tactic intended to use our love of religion to mask the need to engage in the hard work of doing justice and loving kindness in the world God made and balanced.  Such tactics benefit only those whose peaceful comfort depend on the world staying disordered and out of balance.

Messiah has the responsibility to turn the world right side up, which will bring peace to all of Creation. The absence of messiah from Creation is itself a metaphor for the broken state of the world. Why, then, would we be glad at Jesus’ departure?

I don’t know.

Two tries at an answer:

We should rejoice at Jesus’ departure because…

1.  Messiahs are dangerous.

That is true even if it is OUR messiah.  Perhaps Jesus, the messiah, is departing so as not to lead any charges against any enemies that we have saved up in our revenge-loving imaginations.

2.  The absence of God teaches faithful people something we choose not to learn when we are flooded with God.

This is part of walking humbly with God.

Cults make their way in the world by finding a way to sell direct experience of God to nervous people, but the writings of actual saints are littered with honest confessions of God’s apparent absence.

There is nothing quite so humbling as to be a publicly identified “Saint” who is aware of very real doubt.  When C.S. Lewis first published his searingly honest journal (A Grief Observed) in the aftermath of his wife’s death, he did so under a pseudonym.  There will surely have been many factors that led him to this choice, but among them will be his awareness that his faith (which he now calls a “house of cards”) has been on public display for general admiration.

Lewis discovers in his grief that God shatters our too-easy ideas, our too-pat notions of faith, and our too-stable images of God.

Absence and the Work of Peace

Perhaps the work of peace can only be carried out by people who are NOT sure of the presence of God, especially if “God” is understood to be an ally in the fight against the “enemies of peace.”  Perhaps the God who shatters all that is too easy, too pat, and too stable must especially shatter the idol of God as an unquestioning ally.

Perhaps the absence that we need if we are to do the work of peace is not the absence of God, but the presence of God as a puzzle and a problem.  Karl Jaspers wrote: “Ein bewiesener Gott ist kein Gott.”  (A God who is thoroughly known and proven is no God at all.)  I have been thinking about that statement for over 20 years.  My students at Augustana University are often engaged in a serious search for the reality of God, a God who can be held onto.  Many times I have suspected that those who found such a God were dangerous, both to others and to themselves.  Certainty in matters of religion encourages arrogance, ridicule, and manipulation.  I find that to be true whether the certainty is exhibited by unthinking evangelists or by Richard Dawkins, by too-eager believers and too-eager unbelievers.

Emanuel Levinas gave us a glimpse of God as a very present puzzle.  The face of God, he argued, is to be seen in the face of the other.  Sometimes he capitalizes the Other, sometimes not.  Sometimes this “other” is a transcendent Reality, and sometimes it is just another person.

The Work of Peace in Real Relationships

Years ago one of my most important teachers gave me a glimpse of how this might relate to the work of peace.  My teacher was Pastor William F. Mueller.  I was a young and just weeks from being married.  Pastor Mueller had been married for over 60 years.  I asked him what I needed to know about being married.

He rolled his eyes, for reasons that probably make sense to everyone reading this.  I ask odd questions.

But he gave me an answer.  He said: “Here is what I know about marriage: I wake up in the morning, roll over in bed, look into my wife’s face, and I realize that I have no idea what she is going to do or say next.”

I thought that was not much to go on.

However…

My wife and I have been married over 40 years now, and the only thing I know about being married is this: I look into her eyes and have no idea what she will say or do next.

The matter of negotiating ANY human relationship requires listening and responding.  It teaches you humility and determination.  The work of peace requires that we begin with this kind of honest awareness of absence: absence of possession, absence of control, absence of certainty.  I cannot possess or control the “other,” whether that other is my wife, an opponent, or God.  I can, however, practice listening and responding.  I can devote myself to learning to walk humbly with God.

Perhaps this is the absence for which we should rejoice.  The work of peace only can be accomplished when we are aware of hard difficult that work will always be.  And the absence of an “ally messiah” or a proven presence of God makes for real, and helpful difficulty.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s