Peace is a noun. Peace is a person. Peace is who we become when we are free of what puts us at odds with God, with our neighbours and most times with ourselves. We become peace when we are free to live for God and for others. We become peace through the cross. Ephesians 2:14 says ‘Christ Himself is our peace.’ And the beatitudes say ‘blessed are the peace makers’, that is, those who make others peace, breaking down barriers between people and creating a new people. Peace is about creating a person: gathering the dust, moulding it, and breathing in life. Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace entails the realities of gathering, transformation, and newness.
When the Old Testament prophets talked about Shalom, they were talking about wholeness, total wellbeing, and this would have been possible whenever the Israelites gathered their heart, their soul, and their strength and loved God wholly. They would have then been transformed from a people who rebelled against God to a people who loved God. Perhaps, after they had been transformed, they would have experienced the justice and peace of the Kingdom that Isaiah talks about and would have become peace. Notice the words used: people, person, not individual. In biblical literature, when we talk about peace, we do so always in reference to the reality of a person, and not an individual. A person is always relational, defined in relation to others.
I am a person; you are a person; and we are people because we are in a relationship. It is in this sense that we talk about the Persons of the Holy Trinity – the Father is for ever in a relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the Son and the Holy Spirit are also in an eternal relationship with the Father and with each other. The language of creation in Genesis 1 is the “us-language”. ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…’ What is that image, what is that likeness? It is the image of God Himself. The Fathers of the Church have always kept this insight before us. Saint Athanasius even stretched this understanding of the image of God further when he speaks of the incarnation – God becomes man so that man might become God. And N. T. Wright sees this as our primary vocation. We are called to be God’s Image Bearers, to reflect godlikeness.
But there is another question, who is God? In talking about God, we must bear in mind the wise words of saint Augustine – Si comprehendis, non est Deus – If you understand Him, He is not God. At the same time, we also have to listen to what God has communicated to us in Scripture of Himself. In Exodus 34:6. He is the Lord, the God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. And in 1 John 4:8, God is love. Notice the revelation of God is personalistic. It is the “other” focused. God does not merely reveal Himself as merciful; He is merciful to us. God does not merely reveal Himself as gracious; He is gracious to us. God does not merely reveal Himself as forgiving, He forgives us our sins. God does not merely reveal Himself as love, He loves us. Thus, ‘It has been said, in a beautiful and profound way, that our God in his deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love.’
Our vocation and mission is to reflect God and to be a person. Cultures of Sadness Culture comes from the Latin word cultura which is rendered as to till, to cultivate, to tend. It carries and communicates our beliefs, our values, and morals. Culture shapes our worldview, gives us tools for how to live and navigate our way in society and in the world at large. ‘Culture makes us who we are.’ Figuratively, the word culture can be used to mean acts that nurture or promote a particular way of life. It is in this figurative sense that we will be talking about cultures of sadness. What are those ways of life that promote sadness, and leave us empty? One that readily comes to mind is secularism and its attendant consequence – scientism. When we talk about secularism, we talk about worldliness.
We immediately differentiate the religious from the mundane; that which is of God from that which attempts to dissociate itself from God. Although secularism does not necessarily deny the existence of God, it does not however subscribe to the authority of God. Its findings and conclusions seem to be drawn solely from the scientific method. Science is seen as absolute, and it is shielded from religious truth, faith. In such a secularised culture, we tend to live in denial of realities that cannot be scientifically verified. We become a people that is focused only on data that we can collect, manipulate, and control. Since God transcends us, God is then seen as a competitor; one whose existence threatens ours. We turn our backs on Him and seek to discredit His existence by pointing to evil in the world. His authority is undermined; in fact, He is no longer authority. He is not worth consulting.
We shut ourselves off in ourselves and make absolute our own finitude. If this is not sadness, one can only ask what then is sadness? For when we close in on ourselves, we make no opening for God’s Spirit whose presence brings joy, and whose absence is the cause of sadness. We deny ourselves of the sun that rises when we encounter the other: God and our fellow human beings. And as such, the ice of sadness insulates us from the warmth of joy. What a sadness to live without the sun; to live as if God does not exist ? We gradually become “corrupt” , gods unto ourselves and turn on each other like Adolf Hitler’s Germany. And what about the culture of indifference? The attitude of “I don’t care. I am not bothered about others. I mind my own business. I am comfortable in my buffered self.” Nigerians have a name for indifference. It is Bigmanism. The whole reality of Bigmanism is the culture of exclusivity. It means the “big man” defines himself in distinction from others.
He erects walls to protect himself from others. And in his high walls, he deprives himself of the beauty of the human drama outside the walls. One can only imagine the sadness of being bored with oneself. In the Western world, the concept of the Hyperinflated individual used by Pope Francis in his book Let us Dream: The Path to A Better Future best captures the culture that gives rise to sadness. Pope Francis speaks of an individual who is withdrawn into his or her own little world and makes himself or herself the centre of the universe. He speaks of a narcissism that is self-seeking, self-referencing, and self-indulging. Such behaviours bring about the globalisation of indifference and the rise of despair. And where there is despair, there is obviously sadness. There is another culture of sadness. It is spiritual apathy. A culture that is disenchanted with anything that has to do with God.
A culture that has deliberately forgotten God or is forgetting God, forgetting the Judeo-Christian narrative – the story that we were created by the God who loves us, loved us into existence, and according Pope Benedict VXI, destined us for greatness. The greatness of being a friend of God, of becoming a saint; the greatness of attaining ‘the ultimate and principal good of man which is the enjoyment of God’ and His creation. Unfortunately, we are becoming complacent , dispassionate about God and the things that relate to God. God does not seem to excite us anymore. We are becoming bored with God. And as a result, we are removing our gaze from God and placing it on ourselves. Put it another way, we are losing interest in God’s friendship. The French novelist and essayist, Leon Bloy sees this attitude of turning away from God and refusing His friendship as the only one real sadness in life. It is sadness that the Greeks call Akedia – an oppressive sorrow, misery that bogs us down.