A Muslim community in Tennessee has plans to turn a discount cinema into a mosque. A friend of mine was posting disappointment about it on Facebook. This person’s disappointment was shared by some, but there was a voice of …well, not so much dissention. This person was challenging everyone in the thread to seek peace and understanding with this Muslim community. He suggested joining in their worship and rituals as an “act of peace”. He urged the readers to refrain from uncritically receiving negative press about Muslims and to seek “the path of understanding”. And he got me to thinking…
Does the path of understanding ultimately lead to peace…with anyone? I don’t know where it came from originally, but like you, I’ve seen the quotation “Seek first to understand” on display in a variety of ways. Again, I’ve no idea what the original context was for this aphorism, but it seems that I’ve always encountered it in the context of interpersonal relationships. It’s as if the underlying assumption to this admonition is: if we can understand The Other Person, then our conflict will wither and fade or we will see clearly the actions needed to resolve our conflict with The Other Person. If we could simply understand one another, then we would be able to build a peaceful community.
Certainly, understanding is a good thing, but is it a necessary thing? Is it true that we must understand our neighbor, our enemy, our Others in order to be at peace with them? I don’t think it is. I think that there are times when understanding leads most swiftly and directly to conflict and even hostility. So, if the path of understanding doesn’t infallibly lead to peace, what does? Does anything? Can anything? Perhaps it’s not a question of any thing, but rather of any one. Can anyone lead people to peace?
Do you feel like you’ve been set up? I mean, you can see what’s coming next right? This is the point at which I talk about Jesus. I might even invoke the title “Prince of Peace”…and I’d be right to do so. I could also talk about how his suffering brought us peace with God, and again it would be right to do so. There’s also good reason to work in that thoroughly Biblical phrase “peace which passes understanding”. But instead of doing all that, I want to look to Jesus to instruct us in the nuts and bolts of how to be the peacemakers he wants Christians to be.
Jesus never said, “Understand your neighbor as you understand yourself.” He never told his hearers “Understand your enemies, bless those who curse you.” He also did not instruct us to “understand our brothers seventy times seven”. Instead, Jesus said to love our neighbors and our enemies and to forgive our brothers…and sisters as well. Love and forgiveness. These are the acts of peace. These actions can lead to peace between people. After all, if God’s love for us and His forgiveness of our sins against him can lead to peace between the Creator and his Creation, then certainly it can lead to peace between the creatures.