Lesson 13: The Peaceable Kingdom

The Peaceable KingdomChristian hope is based on God’s promises about his future actions. The resulting visions inspire our loving actions in the present. Isaiah’s beautiful picture of the Peaceable Kingdom serves as the model for the first vision. Its promise addresses one of history’s most poignant expressions of humankind’s lamentation at the ever-present threat of war.

No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity, for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. (Isaiah 65: 20-24)

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah.11: 6-10)

At first, Isaiah’s vision seems a bit naive. Like so many utopian dreams, it tries to satisfy humanity’s deep yearnings for peace with a return to an innocent rural setting, in this case a restoration of the Eden’s Garden. Humans, animals, and land will exist together in harmony. However on further reflection, you perceive the prophet is talking about more than wolves that walk on four legs or snakes that slither on their bellies. His vision of a world without warfare necessitated the transformation of those who once preyed on other human beings.

Christians affirm this vision when they proclaim Jesus the Prince of Peace and acknowledge that his followers are blessed for being peacemakers. (Matthew 5: 9) Jesus implements the vision with teachings about loving your enemies and returning good for evil. This is the way to peace that transforms wolves and snakes into friends.

A good case can be made that this vision assumes all Christians will be pacifists. At the least, it demands those claiming to follow Jesus had better have a decent rationale if they fail to practice nonviolence. It also raises big questions about societies that get their way by threatening to use force, especially when that involves nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless, as we all know, most Christians and churches have ignored the implications of this vision. We have long argued it is only realistic for the righteous to use power to control evil. This old way, exemplified by the NRA’s slogan, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” has brought violence and death into our children’s classrooms. This old way that bases all security on military superiority is short-sighted when every small nation will soon have nuclear weapons. As Martin Luther King wrote from the Birmingham jail, “Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies—or else? The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

It is difficult to know exactly what the new way will look like. However, Christians will find it by reconsidering the depth of God’s promises.

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3 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Lupe Andrade says:

    In this lesson, I find you less hopeful that the three great virtues will be primordial in our lives once again. Faith is challenged at every step, hope, as you point out, “seems a bit naive” in today’s conflicted world. Charity as the encompassing virtue of “love thy neighbor as thyself…) when rulers determine suffering for thousands, hundreds of thousands (like in the shutdown) or millions (such as in war) seems to be absent from today’s political and economic life. It is hard, ort impossible to think of a restoration of Eden. And though I agree that “the depth of God’s promise” deserves consideration, I truly believe that action is also needed at this time. Each and every Christian, each and every thinking and feeling person must make a personal commitment, to him or herself, and to God, to act in accordance with those basic principles that seem to have fallen by the wayside. Trump cannot last forever, neither can Maduro or Putin. Who will replace them, is the heavy question. Meanwhile, I strongly believe in the individual and in individual action as the main force for good in these times. You are an example, as are many of your correspondents. If each can provide a “butterfly effect”, perhaps there is hope for Hope. Lupe

  2. Myron Hoffman says:

    We Christians proclaim Jesus the Prince of Peace and strive to inform our lives and actions by his example and teachings.
    Why then are we so reluctant to speak out against the deluge of evil and hatred engulfing our country and the world in general? Is is adequate to wring our hands and bemoan the tragedy of refugees denied succor, children torn from their parents’ arms. Shouldn’t we at least questions the motives of moves to destabilize the present world order? It was painstakingly constructed, imperfectly but with enlightened purpose, to forestall war and preserve a global political and economic structure with the ultimate aim of fostering comity of nations?

    Daily we experience more outrages perpetrated by our political leadership, reflecting the most base of human characteristics. (I’ll spare you the reiterations.) It seems to me that our Christian leadership, pastors and priests, synods and seminaries could well objectively compare publicly the actions of our political leaders to the teachings of Christ and see how they match up. A rigorous public examination of contemporary events against the backdrop of Christian faith, hope love, and compassion would ultimately serve the common good. (I know that compassion is often subsumed under love and/or charity, but I believe it deserves special status these days. )

    I understand the constraints moderates feel against publicly engaging in partisan politics. On the other hand, extreme right-wing “evangelical Christians” have no compunctions about entering the political arena, from the pulpit and at partisan rallies, to promote there own narrow interests, and to gain political advantage for questionable dogmas. “The depth of God’s promise” deserves more than consideration.

  3. Fritz Foltz says:

    I agree with Lupe and Myron that the times call for speaking out and acting on our beliefs. I guess I suggested considering what God’s promises mean, because I see so many preachers talking as if hope refers to some future otherworldly time. If we are going to understand how hope inspires us at the present time, we need to rethink a lot of our past assumptions

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