Isaiah had a vision once, an image of peace and prosperity. He saw a world where war was no more, where no-one had to train for battle, where people gathered up their swords and turned them into tools for farming, where God has established a reign of peace.
It’s a beautiful vision, but it’s hard to comprehend. It’s almost utopian, and it’s clear that it’s only achieved because of God’s own intervention. Meanwhile we spend billions on inventing more and more elaborate ways of killing people, and no matter how impressive our drone fleets or our fighter jets are, we still need more of them. We can wipe out everyone multiple times over because hey, you never know, the survivors in their bunkers might have to obliterate, I dunno, zombified mutants or opportunistic cockroaches.
War seems to be baked into us now. There’s always another enemy emerging from the rubble of the previous conflagration, a never ending cycle that moulds our politics, embodies our fears, boosts our economies. Sometimes this will affect us deeply, when the shock of sudden violence strikes close to home, but then it’s back to business as usual, because the scale of the problem is too vast for individuals to process, there’s always another suicide bombing, always another mass shooting, too many losses to mourn without them breaking us, the minute’s silences stretching into hours.
And yet Isaiah’s vision is still compelling. We live in the now-and-not-yet kingdom of the Prince of Peace, who was broken on a violent cross and yet transformed that into a symbol of hope. Bill Hicks once asked why Christians thought Jesus would want to see all those crosses when he comes back. I get his point, but that’s the power of the resurrection story – a torture instrument is comprehensively transformed into a symbol of hope, each empty cross standing as a mockery of the power of violence and death.
All those crosses? Counter-cultural, just not in the way the Culture Wars pesent it. “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” isn’t just a ‘thing’, it’s antichrist.
(And now someone’s asking “But what about ISIS?” I don’t know what to do about ISIS, but I’m willing to bet we should have done it 30 years ago.)
What does it mean to live in the light of Isaiah’s vision? Yes, I know it’s eschatological, but the Kingdom of God breaks into this world when we catch a glimpse of that future and live as if it can be a present reality. And that’s going to be on an individual level, so what does “swords into ploughshares” look like into our communities?
Do we need to take those angry and insulting and threatening emails and Facebook comments and do some origami?
Do we need to, you know, stop sending hate mail peppered with Bible verses in the hope that they make vitriol holy?
Do we need to learn how to make peace instead of acting as apologists for volence or abuse?
Do we need to transfer more of our resources towards supporting safe spaces for survivors of domestic violence or child abuse or the sex trade?
Do we need to treat refugees and migrants with more kindness than we have been?
Do we need to be on the streets at 2am stopping fights and handing out flipflops?
Do we need to look at all of the above and see what we can do about their underlying causes, like poverty or prejudice or religion?
If violence is so ingrained in humanity then any intentional attempt to follow the way of peace takes a sword and turns it into a ploughshare. And that won’t stop wars, it won’t change the world overnight, but that’s not our job. We follow in the footsteps of Christ, and where violence tries to have its way, we turn to the empty cross and laugh.
Part 1 of this series, Breaking the Bow, is here.