Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
September 23, 2018
Text: James 4:1, O.T.: Habakkuk 1:1-4, N.T.: James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
On Tuesday, September 11, 2012 Northmont’s Presbyterian Women were gathering in Polley Hall to promote Jesus Christ’s mission. That mission is the Gospel of Peace. As the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2, “Christ is our peace who has made us one and broken down the walls of hostility that divide us.”
The women were gathering when the United States Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed in Benghazi. Four and a half hours of terrorists fighting around and in the U.S. Consulate led to the ambassador’s death. When PW’s members returned home that night, evening broadcasts told the story of impassioned anger that swept from Egypt’s streets into Libya.
Later, the fury crossed North Africa into the Middle East, and throughout southern Asia. Offended Muslims were reacting to a California movie mocking the Prophet Muhammed. The terrorists used the angry crowds as cover for their operation to kill the ambassador.
Passionate crowds across the Middle East that protest America have been familiar sights. These cultural clashes heightened our awareness of Islam since the 1979 capture of the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Religious sensitivities have been the context for several wars that are defining America’s foreign policy since the Cold War’s end.
Foreign policy isn’t simply dominated by secular considerations of national security. There is a foreign policy that emerges from religious faith. Religious convictions form the context for how religions interact with one another in people’s lives. What religions teach about the foreigner is vital for world peace.
What’s becoming more apparent during the first two decades of the new millennia is religion is re-emerging as a world-wide force. It’s more than a private opinion. This is critical for us to accept in America where our entire judicial philosophy declares religion is only private. Religion is more than private opinion.
Religion shapes masses of people and how they act. Religious convictions united by social networks transcend national boundaries, governmental controls, and religious institutions. They can result in conflict.
A CNN interview of protestors in Cairo’s streets was instructive. None of those interviewed had seen the movie from California that mocked the Prophet Muhammed. They were reacting emotionally to reports on the Internet about the offensive film.
An emotional reaction to religious offenses isn’t peculiar to one religion. Its part of the human condition. Religion evokes passion.
The writer Jonathan Kirsch claims religion is the cause of war. Particularly, monotheistic religion is the cause of war. His 2004 book, God against the Gods Kirsch claims monotheism’s claim that God is one is intolerant. Since only Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are monotheistic, they’re to blame for war.
War has deeper causes than monotheism. Wars were perpetual in the ancient world of polytheism. Myths and legends in ancient polytheistic religions formed narratives of conflict among the gods that generated conflict on earth. Conflicts among various deities justified human conflict between tribal nations.
In contrast to religion being the cause of war, a study by the Brookings Institute in the 1990s saw another cause. The secular, modern world uses reason to justify war. When a secular government reasons it’s economically and socially profitable to go to war, it sells war’s reasonableness to its citizens.
Still, reason can prevent war. The former chief of Israel’s Mossad, Meir Dagan, once said Iran is rational. It’s carefully weighing the cost of developing nuclear weapons. It’s rationally pursing a slow strategy to retain world support. But Iran also has claimed it wants Israel’s destruction.
Dagan said Israel needs to rationally respond to Iran. He cautioned both Iran and Israel to be rational. “There is time. There is time,” he repeated – a time to make peace and a time to go to war.
Nuclear weapons that assure mass destruction are reasonable. So far, they have not been used since the Second World War. They have frightened humanity from using them again. But if the passion of a world leader decides to override reason, then the entire planet is in trouble.
Foreign policy may not be the most pressing issue each day for Americans. But wars are the result of the reasons behind foreign policy that influence how Christians live, and what they do with others. The world is a small place and God is not a disinterested observer in how His creation lives together.
Genesis 1:26-28 describes humanity’s common source. All humanity is created in God’s image. Humanity’s common source in God unites the world, arching over national security interests, racial differences, and religious fervor. God binds us together. There’s no foreigner when all humanity reflects God’s image. But when passion over-rides our common humanity, war is the result.
When passion over-rides reason, war is the result. At a religious level, when human passion over-rides God’s purpose of giving life in creation, war is the result. When religious passions over-ride God’s purpose in giving us life, war is the result. Passion fertilizes the ground of sin.
The writer of James’ Letter warns against dangerous influences that cause war. The Greek word for these influences is hedone. It’s translated as either “passions” or “pleasures.” It’s the root word for what we call “hedonism.”
Hedone only shows up in the New Testament in five occasions. Two are in the Letter of James. Not one of those occasions is regarded as positive for faith in God. Jesus uses the term in Luke 8:14 to describe the pleasures of life that choke the seeds of faith. These pleasures or hedone are like weeds that destroy faith’s fruits. They become more important than living in God’s grace and goodness.
In Titus 3:3, hedone describes the pre-Christian life where malice, envy, and hatred enslave unbelievers. Titus claims jealousy and hatred are pleasurable for a person who is disobedient to God. People like this can’t live without hedone as an emotional experience. Feeling jealousy and hatred become more important than following God and recognizing God made all people in His image. Hedone is disobedience to God. Hedone doesn’t reflect God’s image.
II Peter 2:13 uses hedone as the condition of reveling in irrational thoughts. What Peter describes as hedone is what Charles Darwin calls “the survival of the fittest.” Peter uses hedone to describe false prophets who are “creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed.” Their need to revel in hedone is insatiable. “Reviling in matters of which they are ignorant, [they] will be destroyed in the same destruction with them.”
Think about it. When God created you, was the life God gave you intended for you to have malice, envy, hatred? Was your creation meant to be irrational? Were you predestined to be caught and killed because of your slavery to hatred, envy, and malice?
A god whose creation is enslaved by anger, hatred, and jealousy as forms of pleasure is not a god of goodness, mercy, and life. Such a god didn’t give life as a gift to His creatures. Such a god only gave His creatures the illusion of life for the enjoyment of watching His creation battle over their hatred, malice, and envy.
The one, true God who created us loves us. The God who gave us life intends for us to experience the goodness and blessings of His love. The God who bestowed abundant life upon us has shown us that we have no need to be angry, envious, or to fight for our just entitlement in creation.
The God who has given us life in creation is the God who has shown us the power of His love to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. He has shown us His goodness and mercy in the one who is love – who bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, endured all things on the Cross. Jesus Christ did this for all of His creation.
The God of life and love is the power who has revealed His purpose in creation is to give not just life, but eternal life. God is the source of not just the blessings of this world. He is the source of blessings when men and women who love God share God’s goodness and mercy with one another. The goodness of God is seen His creature’s thankfulness for the common humanity we share with one another as God’s image.
But when passion overrides our gratitude to God, we sin. We let our passion for pleasure to blind us from the potential for goodness in every human. Passion for pleasing our own desires is the place where war begins.
When our relationship with God is so intimate and profound that we appreciate His blessings in our creation, we are compelled by His goodness to live without malice, hatred, and envy. We won’t succumb to the temptations of sin’s passions that lead people to make war.
God has sent His love – Jesus Christ – to reconcile peoples to Himself and to each other. He has given us this ministry of reconciliation as the people of Christ. We are to be ambassadors of reconciliation – offering the gift of God’s love in peace. Not only J. Christopher Stevens is an ambassador of reconciliation. All of Christ’s people share the responsibility of spreading the message of reconciliation.
We are God’s new creation that stands beyond those who succumb to malice, envy, and hatred. We freely live by the power of love that Jesus Christ has shown us. We are filled with uncommon joy that leads us to rejoice and be glad for the glory of God that is in all creation.
Christ’s people are the peacemakers, the children of God.
- Christopher Stevens had a divine mission. His middle name, Christopher, means “Christ-bearer.” He fulfilled His divine mission. So must we.