Peace and goodwill to everyone?

Is this peace? (Source: www.freeimages.com)

Is this peace? (Source: www.freeimages.com)

What a barmy army time of year to talk about peace!  With trees to be bought and decorated, a seemingly endless round of Christmas parties to be part of, nativity plays to prepare for (and endure), the right number and quality of presents to be bought, a perfect meal to prepare, often with critical relatives to impress, all while avoiding tempers flaring, tantrums from over-excited children and taking out a second mortgage to pay for everything.  Call that peace?

I think we’ve missed the point.

Peace is usually defined negatively in our culture – as the absence of something like war, noise, people, or work.  When we think about it, we often think about ‘getting away from it all’ and imagine a deckchair on a golden beach, or beautiful mountain scenery.  What does that have to do with peace in our daily life?

The birth of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) was announced by the angels as bringing peace to the world (Luke 2:14).  Yet Jesus himself said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34) – and that is closer to the experience of many of us, particularly believers living in North Korea, Nigeria or many parts of the Middle East.

Yet Jesus the peacemaker told his disciples “In this world you will have loads of trouble, but don’t worry – in me you can have peace…  My peace I give to you.” (John 16.33, 14:27)  He clearly didn’t mean the Hebrew meaning of Shalom – wholeness, health, calm, serenity, blessing, prosperity – because he knew the next day he was going to be flogged and nailed to a cross, and his followers would be hiding, discouraged and demoralised.  There’s no way that counts as peace.

But the incarnation heralded a new era in God’s dealing with humanity.  An era in which we can know peace with God through being reconciled in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19).  The power of Christ and the Holy Spirit at work in us enables us to make peace with ourselves, confronting our inner demons and knowing freedom from everything that has happened to us that prevents us becoming who God wants us to be.  It also gives us the ability to make peace with our enemies through forgiving them and seeing relationships restored.

Too often we don’t actually make peace; we try (and fail) to keep it.  Peacekeeping can prevent the outbreak of open hostilities but the wounds and injustice still simmer below the surface, and occasionally erupt out, hurting everyone around, including innocent bystanders.  That’s why peacemakers are blessed (Matthew 5:9) – because in making peace they demonstrate they, like Jesus, are children of God.

May all our readers know real peace amidst the turmoil of Christmas!

Boko Haram declares ‘war’ on Christians in Nigeria

We don’t often mention West Africa in these pages, but the civil strife in the oil-rich state of Nigeria which has been simmering away for several years reached new depths last weekend when the islamist group Boko Haram announced a ‘war’ on Christians.  In a statement reported by the Egyptian news network Bikya Masr it said:

We will create so much effort to end the Christian presence in our push to have a proper Islamic state that the Christians won’t be able to stay.

Boko Haram’s name roughly translates as ‘western education is sacrilege’.  In this context, education is used as a metonym for anything Western, since Christian missionaries to the Islamic sultanates in the north of Nigeria used education as an evangelistic tool when the country came under British control in the early 20th century.

Boko Haram has committed a number of atrocities against Christians in the past, notably in the city of Jos where a church was bombed in February.   Over the last 18 months it has also coordinated attacks in other major cities, and last January went on a rampage in Kano where it was able to intimidate the police to such an extent that it went unchallenged.  Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has vowed to crush Boko Haram, yet the security forces seem to have made little progress.

The jihadist group wants to establish Sharia law throughout Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, which politically dominates the rest of West Africa.  This would have huge repercussions on Nigeria’s 61 million Christians as well as the rest of the region.  Boko Haram is not merely Islamist but also radically anti-West, rejecting any western influence or products.  Given the amount of crude oil Nigeria supplies to the West (it is the world’s 8th largest exporter of oil) it is inconceivable that Western powers would not intervene should Boko Haram come close to taking control of the state.

Map of Nigeria showing in green states implementing Sharia law

Like many other West African countries, Nigeria is roughly divided north-south, with the coastal provinces dominated by Christians, and the northern provinces under Moslem control.  All Nigeria’s northern provinces, which have been Moslem for over 1000 years, already use Sharia law, but Boko Haram’s strategy aims at exploiting the deep rifts between the two zones, aggravating the historic tensions between the religions, hoping to divide the state and make it easier to conquer.  A more inclusive government policy aimed at reconciling the two regions and overcoming the sense of alienation in the north, would do much to marginalise Boko Haram.

Many Nigerian Moslem leaders have been vocal in condemning Boko Haram, urging it to take up the path of peace and denying that it represents true Islam, but at some cost.  Boko Haram is content to attack not only Christians and the Nigereian state, but also fellow Moslems who do not support it.

Please pray:

  • for the safety and security of Nigerian Christians;
  • for the Nigerian government to be effective in combating Boko Haram;
  • for peaceful relationships between Moslems and Christians, and particularly for Christians to have the grace to refrain from reacting violently when attacked.