Peace part 4: Theological response

Christians and Jews both teach that when God created humanity, God created man and women in God’s image. New Testament teaching goes on to say that the one who hates his brother cannot love God. (I John 4:20) The reason given for this is that Humanity is created in God’s image. Symbolically, whatever we do to our fellow humans is something that we are doing to God.

Humans are very aware of the use of symbols to carry out anger, even anger for things that happened hundreds of years in the past. Every November many British communities make images of a 17th century terrorist named Guy Fawkes and burn this effigy. Popular culture reminds of folk magic such as voodoo dolls and poppets, which are figures in a rough human form which people do the violence they wish upon another person in hope that the evil will come. In American news, people debate the appropriateness of such acts as hanging the President in effigy. What is not debated is that none of these acts are acts of good will; they are symbolic acts of violence.

Symbolically, the way we act towards other human beings is the way we act toward God. Religious people find it offensive when their religious symbols are desecrated. Patriotic people find it offensive when national symbols such as the national flag is desecrated, unceremoniously burned, or even displayed improperly. If we truly believe that Humanity is the image of God in the same way that we believe the cross is a symbol of Christ, or the flag is the symbol of the nation, we should find it offensive whenever our fellow human is desecrated, destroyed, or put on shameful display. We should recognize that this is symbolic violence against God.

The call for peace is a call to recognize this high view of Humanity. When we talk about the complexity of exceptions such as what do we do to protect people from other people, there are many debates filled with complex issues. The problem with talk of war and enemies is that the value of the human beings rarely comes into the discussion. We undervalue the people we send to fight and die; we undervalue civilians; we undervalue the enemy soldiers who’s motivations for fighting most often has little to do with the positions of their government.

We call for peace, because war is a massive desecration of God’s image. Whatever the benefits, the symbolic cost is too great. War calls on entire nations to dehumanize the other. It calls on nations to forget that God created humanity in God’s image. War makes us forget what we are, and blaspheme God in the process.


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