By Jim Denison
On Dec. 10, President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. In his speech the president said, “I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations — that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.”
Ironically, the president’s trip to Norway came just nine days after he announced plans to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Some are questioning whether the leader of a nation at war deserves a peace prize. Mr. Obama spoke directly to this question: “Perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the commander in chief of a nation in the midst of two wars.”
The answer depends on our definition of “peace.” Most of us think of peace as the absence of war or cessation of conflict. But true and lasting peace is far more than harmony or a lack of war — it requires the presence of justice. Martin Luther asserted: “Peace if possible; truth at all costs.” Dwight Eisenhower believed, “Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.” And Benjamin Franklin warned, “Even peace may be purchased at too high a price.”
We can achieve peace with nearly anyone at any time — if we are willing to forego justice. We could have achieved peace with Hitler without entering World War II if we were willing for Nazism to control Europe; there could have been peace with Japan if we were willing for Emperor Hirohito to control Southeast Asia. We could have peace with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda now if we are willing for Israel to be annihilated and radical Islam to control the Middle East.
True peace requires justice and righteousness, in all three dimensions of life: with ourselves, with others and with God. Not just the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. Where do we find such peace?
Seven centuries before Christmas, a prophet of God described the Baby of Bethlehem: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Is. 9:6-7).
When that Baby was born, the angels rejoiced: “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).
Christmas leads to Calvary. Jesus came to pay our debt, making possible a right relationship with our righteous, pure and holy God. He came to transform us by the miracle of his grace so that the lion and the lamb might lie down together inside our hearts and homes. He came to be our Prince of Peace.
Billy Graham claims, “Christ alone can bring lasting peace — peace with God, peace among men and nations and peace within our hearts.” Dante’s most beautiful line of poetry states simply, “In thy will is our peace.” Julian of Norwich taught, “Peace reigns where our Lord reigns.”
Where do you most need peace with yourself, others or God? Ask Jesus to reign over that conflict or pain. Place it before his throne, in his omnipotent hands: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
The first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1901. Since that time, according to one estimate, more than 87 million people have died in two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and now Iraq and Afghanistan as well as smaller conflicts. When the Nobel Peace Prize is given again next year, there will still be war in the world. The enduring peace our souls long to find is not awarded to statesmen in Oslo, but to worshipers in Bethlehem.
Let’s join them.