The Mind of Peace
by Tass Saada
In today’s seething caldron of attacks and counterattacks, we can drive ourselves crazy trying to understand what motivates the mind of a terrorist. But sooner or later, we need to take a deep breath and raise a contrasting question: What motivates a mind of peace? What wires the brain of a person who leans toward harmony and reconciliation rather than hostility and revenge?
As any psychologist will say, we almost never accomplish that which we do not first envision in our heads. Our words and hands (and guns) only follow what is in our minds. First we think; then we do.
Here are five vital elements of a solution-oriented person, as expressed in the words of Scripture:
- A decision (no doubt risky) to trust divine wisdom rather than human reasoning. The apostle James drew a sharp contrast between the way our world thinks and what God recommends:
Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
(James 3:16-18, emphasis added)
As we watch the daily news, it is hard—I admit it—to take this passage at face value. The urge to strike back against violence and mayhem is powerful. It takes an act of faith to say that God knows better, that he has a better way in mind for us.
It won’t pay off immediately. The passage uses a gardening metaphor when it talks about sowing in peace. The time when we get to “reap a harvest of righteousness” doesn’t happen overnight. We have to wait for the crop to ripen. But when it does, the “good fruit” is delicious.
There is no such thing as a chemical formula for “instant peace.” But as God is allowed to work through us, permanent changes can grow.
- An admission that human force usually isn’t forceful enough. The heaviest artillery, the most fearsome arsenal seems as if it should be able to bring in a new world order of peace—except that it doesn’t.
For a large stretch of my life as a young freedom fighter, I thought it would. If my comrades and I could just put enough hot lead into the Israelis, they would back off and give us what we wanted. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.
Whenever someone asks me how many enemy soldiers I killed in my days as an al-Fatah sniper, I answer, “The truth is, I don’t know; it’s impossible to say, given the long distances from which I was shooting. What I do know is that I deeply regret every one of those deaths. I caused overwhelming grief in numerous Israeli families. I feel terrible about that. And I didn’t achieve the goals for which I was fighting, anyway.”
The last time I saw Yasser Arafat, just six months before his death in 2004, I told him, “Enough blood has been shed. Enough hatred has been sown. Enough is enough! Let us come to peace. And that peace comes only through Jesus, the Christ.” He studied me with a careful gaze for several seconds then adroitly changed the subject.
In saying this, I hoped to echo what Jesus had said in the midst of his trial before Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). The Roman magistrate—like Arafat—couldn’t quite figure out what to do with that mentality.
Since I left the life of violence many years ago, I can no longer think of retaliating violently to any action against myself or anyone else. I can’t go back to my old ways.
The great Mahatma Gandhi of India, though a lifelong Hindu, read much of the New Testament gospels and thought about their meaning. He is often quoted as saying, “In a system of ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ the whole world ends up blind and toothless.”
Weaponry can force a person to move his body, but it cannot change his mind. The adjustment toward peace happens at a deeper level than bullets can penetrate.
- A desire for God’s smile. Or to use Jesus’ term, blessing. Isn’t that what he told the crowd on the mountainside that day long ago? “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). People who engage in the hard work of peacemaking may be mocked, criticized, or called unflattering names (“naïve,” “idealistic,” “a bleeding heart” “a Don Quixote tilting at windmills”). But God watches their efforts and is pleased. In fact, he even calls them his children. They bear his likeness.
One of the first-century apostles we greatly admire was Barnabas. The book of Acts tells how, not long after a fiery vigilante (terrorist?) named Saul was converted to Christ, the man arrived in Jerusalem and
. . . tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
The gentle words of a peace-oriented man soothed the fears of many and opened the way for Saul (Paul) to flourish thereafter in ministry.
- A taste for personal joy! This probably isn’t the most important motivation for the mind of peace, but it is real nonetheless, according to Proverbs 12:20—“Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy” (emphasis added). Few rewards in life can compare with bringing reconciliation to two parties who have been fighting each other. When misunderstandings are cleared up, when walls come down, when channels of communication open up after years of blockage, one can’t help but feel a warm sense of gratification on the inside.
- A recognition that peace is more than just a nice theory; it is our calling. It’s our mission assignment in the world. It’s the job we, as followers of Christ, have been given to do.
How else can we interpret the words of Colossians 3:15? “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (emphasis added). The mind that is filled with Christ’s peace is thereby equipped to disseminate it in an argumentative world. People who have spent their lives fighting and resenting their adversaries can be brought to a whole new understanding of life’s purpose. This work is our vocation, commissioned by our Savior.
Allowing our minds to be infused with divine peace, regardless of outward circumstances, and then radiating that peace toward others as the opportunity arises—this is one of the great joys of life. It is what God asks of his children. It is not usually a simple, one-step process. And the results are not always quick to appear. We have to remain patient, trusting that God will water the seeds we plant and bring forth his harvest in his time.