The Lamb’s War, the Peace Testimony, and the Third Way
June 28, 2014 § 2 Comments
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the land * ; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)
Peace testimony—I love the way that Friends continue to expand and deepen our understanding of this testimony. But I do think that we sometimes lull ourselves into a false sense of righteous complacency with the phrase. For, by focusing on peace, we distract ourselves from the reality of the struggle.
We do not narrowly define the peace testimony in terms of war, but in the broader terms of all violence and conflict. We reject war, yes, and we seek a peace that is not just the absence of armed conflict, but a dynamic wholeness and inter-social well-being that is better defined as shalom, as a condition in which armed conflict will not arise. And we know that this kind of deep-rooted peace requires justice, not in the judicial sense of law and recompense so much as just-ness, a state in which people are encouraged and free to do the right thing.
But some people and some societies are addicted to violence and un-just-ness, and they resist any attempt to bring true peace. American society suffers from this addiction. Thus, the way to peace quite often is anything but peaceful; it often means embracing struggle. Just ask Medgar Evers; or George Fox; or Jesus.
I have always found the bumper sticker saying, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way”, a bit platitudinous. I shouldn’t; it actually expresses the Third Way. It is a kind of peace koan. I have a similarly curmudgeonly attitude toward the iconic image of “the Peaceable Kingdom”. Lions do not lie down with lambs. Lions kill lambs, in this world, and this is the world that matters, the world we actually live in. Or put another way, even in the world we seek, real lions will eat lambs. The hyperbolic promise of a world completely remade invites belief and prophecy, but it defies common sense and fulfillment. Predation persists; prey abound. We will never stop struggling against oppression because there will always be oppressors.
Thus the Lamb’s War is a war! Like the prophet Jesus, we will not be coming to bring peace, but a sword. But what are our weapons? Of what kind of steel is our “sword” made?
All bloody principles and practices, we, as to our own particulars, do utterly deny, with all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretense whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world.
The Declaration to Charles II, from which this passage is taken and which Friends often quote and put up as a poster on the meetinghouse wall as the first clear statement of our peace testimony, consistently refers to “outward weapons”. These words imply a willingness to use inward weapons.
This is the key, I think, to understanding the Lamb’s War as a Third Way. The struggle against violence, oppression, ecocide, and hate is an inward one. One fights the Lamb’s War first of all on the battleground of one’s own soul as a constant turning toward the Light instead of toward one’s shadow-side. And one brings the Lamb’s War to others and to the world inwardly, as well—not to the outward selves of other people, but to their inner life. We “answer that of God” within them; that is, we speak the Word to that within them that yearns for God, for goodness and wholeness and Truth. As the Declaration puts it:
So, we whom the Lord hath called into the obedience of his Truth have denied wars and fightings and cannot again any more learn it. This is a certain testimony unto all the world of the truth of our hearts in this particular, that as God persuadeth every man’s heart to believe, so they may receive it.
This is how the Lamb’s War is waged.
And as for the sword . . . Early Friends drew upon the book of Revelation for the imagery and the strategy of the Lamb’s War. In Revelation, the Lamb is a warrior whose sword comes from out of his mouth:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. . . . He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. . . . Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. . . . He treads out the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (“He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored”) (Revelation 19:11, 13, 15)
Early Friends identified this rider in Revelation as the Word of John chapter one, and as the Lamb in Revelation 17:14 and elsewhere. Thus . . .
The sword of the Lamb is the word of the Lord,
and the Lamb’s War is a war of the Word.
Early Friends waged the Lamb’s War by preaching the Word. Not just preaching the words they found in scripture, but seeking with their own words and actions and lives to bring people to Christ, to the Word, to the light within them that would save them from the darkness within them.
Thus the Lamb’s War is a Third Way. It resists the violence of the oppressor, but not with the violence of the resistor. Rather, it stabs into the human soul with divine Truth. It opens the possibility of life in the Spirit as it warns against death out of the Life. It answers that of God in others.
And it does this, not just with words, with speech, but with the Word, with the presence of the Christ, within us and within them; that is, with love and the Truth.
But to wield that weapon, one must actually know the Truth. One must have heard the Word.
How do we know the Truth? How do we get ears that hear? And what would a Lamb’s War look like today?
* Most translations give “earth” here, but the Hebrew/Aramaic word eretz that Jesus would have used means land, in general, and a range of things in specific, depending on context. It can mean “earth” in the more cosmic sense of “the world”, or the creation, and, since Paul, Christians have jumped to this cosmic meaning whenever they can because it exalts God. But eretz also has specific “legal” and cultural nuances that Jesus invokes quite often. It can mean your land, your family farm, your inheritance (note that in the very next verses in Matthew, Jesus sets “man against his father . . .”, family members against each other, quite possibly a reference to conflict over inheritance. Many of Jesus’ sayings are midrashim on inheritance law.). And eretz can mean the land of Israel. I believe that this is what Jesus intends with this saying. He is saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to Israel.” He was always more concerned with the local and the concrete than with the global and the cosmic (except in John and Paul, of course). Our cosmic-ifying of eretz in our translations is one of the main reasons we moderns don’t see this as clearly and as often as we should.