Ten years ago I experienced a revelation. I was watching The Doctor’s Daughter, the 6th episode in the 4th series of Doctor Who with David Tennant playing the Tenth regeneration of the Doctor and Georgia Moffet playing his cloned offspring, Jenny, The Doctor’s Daughter. A brief conversation in the middle of an ongoing war leapt out at me.
The Doctor asked Jenny: “What are you staring at exactly?”
The Doctor’s Daughter replied: “You keep insisting you’re not a soldier but look at you, drawing up strategies like a proper general.”
“No,” said the Doctor, “I’m trying to STOP the fighting.”
To which Jenny said, “Isn’t every soldier?”
I’m trying to stop the fighting. Isn’t every soldier?
That brought home to me an obvious fact which I think I had always known, but never really appreciated. That the purpose of war is to bring peace. That the reason soldiers fight is to end the fighting.
In history, some wars have been fought, wrongly, for economic gain. To gain territory or riches or power. Such wars were unjustifiable. But The Doctor’s Daughter helped me appreciate that there can be circumstances where war is justifiable, and even necessary. Where war is the only way to bring peace. Where the only way to stop the fighting is to fight.
And that is what we remember today on this 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice and the end of the First World War. And at the same time we remember the Second World War. All the people in living memory who died to bring peace to our world and to preserve the freedom we all enjoy today. Of course peace means much more than the end of war of the absence of conflict. Peace is not just something negative, an absence of something. Peace is a very positive concept. Peace is calm, tranquillity, serenity, harmony, reconciliation. In the Bible, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom – and that means wholeness, completeness, soundness, well-being. Peace is a positive experience.
Today we remember and honour all those men and women who made great sacrifices to bring us that peace. Those who gave their lives and others who suffered all kinds of terrible injuries to win the peace. Jesus said in John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
After the Armistice so many people had such high hopes for peace. When people saw the horrors of the First World War they called it “the war to end all wars.” The poet Wilfred Owen wrote of soldiers “who die as cattle.” In fact the phrase “the war that will end war” was coined in 1914 by the author H.G.Wells. Sadly that turned out not to be true. However much devastation and suffering a war may produce, history always repeats itself. People never learn the lessons. Still over the last 100 years nations have tried all kinds of ways to preserve the peace.
There have been political and diplomatic approaches – The League of Nations and then United Nations. Some have tried military approaches – spending more and more on defence to gain more soldiers and better guns and bigger bombs. The ultimate weapon, the atomic bomb brought the cold war – with the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction by nuclear weapons. You won’t attack me because if you do we have the power to ensure that we will all be destroyed. M.A.D indeed. Praise God the world has escaped the horrors of nuclear war.
In the nineteen sixties during the Vietnam war “Peace” became a catchword and a slogan for many people and “pacifism” seemed to claim the idea of peace as its own exclusive possession. But the Peace Camps and the Peace Marches of the Hippy generation did not bring true and lasting peace either. It is not enough to be AGAINST war – we need to be FOR peace. But the slogan “Peace at any price” is misguided. Those who would compromise anything for a quiet life dare not do so. It was Oliver Cromwell who said, “If we would have peace without a worm in it we must lay foundations of justice and righteousness.” Wise pPeacemakers do not look for peace at any price. Sometimes passive resistance to evil will not suffice. In some countries at some times, peace, righteousness and justice demand that we take action against injustice, corruption, immorality and indifference. Love of neighbour calls us to overcome evil with good, by prophetic witness, by social and political action, and as a last resort by physical force. And the world today needs peacemakers as much as ever.
Christians should always be working for peace. In the seventh Beatitude, Jesus teaches us, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the Sons of God.” We will always pray for cease-fires and peace processes. But the tragic truth is that there will always be wars and rumours of wars. The world cannot save itself. Diplomacy and politics won’t stop wars. Military might won’t stop wars. The nuclear deterrent won’t stop wars. We don’t need an end to war. Rather, as Roosevelt said, we need an end to all the beginnings of wars. But as long as human beings are greedy and proud and arrogant there will always be people who will try to oppress and invade others and take what isn’t theirs by force. And then there will need to be people who take up arms to protect the innocent and preserve the peace and maintain justice and defend freedom. Soldiers who have to fight to stop the fighting.
But war won’t stop war. Just since the Second World War there have been wars in Korea and Vietnam and the Falklands and Afghanistan and Kuwait and Bosnia and Iraq and others. And the world today is not much more stable or safe than ever it was. There will never be a war which will end all wars. But there is still hope for peace. Human sin is great, but God’s love is greater. So the Bible gives us wonderful promises of peace.
Micah 4 3 (God) will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.
4 Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig-tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
Here is the inspiring hope that the tools of war will become tools in peacetime. There are other wonderful promises of peace on earth.
Isaiah 11 6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
This is the promise of peace on earth but it will only be fulfilled in heaven, when God’s dwelling place will be among his people and “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
This wonderful hope of peace will come through Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
There will always be wars. If we pin our hopes on diplomacy or on military might to prevent wars we will always be painfully disappointed. No war will end all wars. The Bible shows us that the gospel of peace which Jesus has brought is the ONLY hope to bring peace to this sin-spoiled world.
On Armistice Day and Remembrance Day we look back at the wars which caused so much hurt and pain and destruction. A friend has described today of all days as, “A day to mark the highest examples of human bravery and sacrifice, and the worst outworkings of human failure and sin.” We think of so many soldiers and we often repeat these words.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
So today we remember all those who fought and suffered and gave their lives to stop the fighting. We honour them by making sure we remember the lessons their deaths can teach us about all the human costs and the tragedies of war. Very sadly, no war will end all wars. Our hopes for a peaceful future rest on our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.