Reality: ‘I am for peace, but they are for war.’

I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war!

(Psalms 120:7)

As I’ve been convalescing from my spinal fusion surgery, I have a lot of down time, and am just beginning to feel well enough to feel the need to do things to occupy my time.  I listened in my first week home to THE HOBBIT on my Kindle text to voice reader.   It is not a human reading the text, but a mechanical reader, which takes some getting used to.  Nevertheless, I was thankful for having a device that could read to me while I lay flat listening.    I read THE HOBBIT 35 years or more ago, and although I remember liking the book, I found that I really didn’t remember the story at all.

As in the entire LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, I do remember having an emotional reaction to the role war plays in the writings of Tolkien.  He was not an idealist, like I am.  He did not envision a world without war or without evil or without a struggle between good and evil.  That struggle takes place not only on the macro level of all people on earth, but in the heart of each individual as well.

I remember being troubled when I first read his trilogy by Tolkien’s realism regarding war and the almost necessary role it has in history.  On this earth there is and will be struggle, and there are forces that are trying to prevail over the rest of inhabitants of earth.   Tolkien does accept the grand epic notion of  a cosmic struggle between good and evil, and yet in my reading of him, he is not blaming Satan for the existence of war, struggle or evil on earth.  Evil lurks in the hearts of earth’s inhabitants.  Satan is not much needed to cause war when the inhabitants of the earth are so ready to use violence to attain even unimportant goals.

There is always someone or some group which desires to have power over others and is willing to do anything to gain and maintain their position of power.  There always are some who are willing to enslave others to attain their goals.  Evil and wickedness are in this sense forces that can work upon our hearts and minds, and it happens at every level of human existence from the individual up to entire cultures and empires.

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.   And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  (Genesis 6:5-6)

I appreciate that recognition of what lurks in the hearts of earth’s inhabitants in the writings of JRR Tolkien.  The struggle with evil that we each and always face is not just the fault of Satan, but it is a true spiritual warfare in each of us.  Sometimes it becomes a collective when an entire nation embraces evil design and decides it is OK to oppression or destroy their fellow inhabitants on earth.

I wish it weren’t so, and by nature am a pacifist, but I realize Tolkien is right about the nature of evil in the world’s population as he is correct about war as a means for people to achieve their goals or to oppose those who want to oppress.

Even after the Great Flood:   the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…'”  (Genesis 8:21)

My pacifistic beliefs are not the result of personal holiness, but the result of wishful idealism.  Would that we on this planet could find it in our hearts not to hate others, not to be ready to kill those different from us, not to be willing to enslave those we think as lesser than ourselves, not to rely on violence to attain our wishes and goals.  But, alas, as in the world Tolkien created, violence and war seem to be part of the fabric which makes up our hearts.

Jesus said: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.   All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”   (Mark 7:21-23)

So the quote of the little Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, stood out in my mind as I listened to the tale:

“You are a fool, Bilbo Baggins, and you made a great mess of that business with the stone; and there was a battle, in spite of all your efforts to buy peace and quiet, but I suppose you can hardly be blamed for that.”   (Kindle 4368-69)

Like Bilbo, I wish people could get along on planet earth, and I’m so often dismayed by as he was by the stubbornness and lack of good will even among some who are supposed to be allies.   How quickly we so often resort to violence and how willingly we go to war.  maybe it is Tolkien’s realism, or maybe it is the biblical notion of violence and evil which lurks in the hearts of every human being.

I know I have used these quotes several times in other blogs, to make the same point, but I came back to the same ideas while reading Tolkien.

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”    (Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)

7 thoughts on “Reality: ‘I am for peace, but they are for war.’

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. Thank you for this post, Father. I am “by nature” an idealistic pacifist but over the past 40 years have become a realist. The response to evil is sometimes violence and death to the evildoer. I finally had to accept the fact that God had no illusions about that, why should we?

  3. Father Ted,

    i’m pursuing a doctoral degree in philosophy, and my dissertation research concerns pacifism. i am also a catachumen in the Orthodox Church. Could you point me to some resources on pacifism (especially any from an Orthodox perspective)? Also, has anyone written specifically about pacifism/peace teachings in the church fathers? What are your favorite books/articles on the topic? Do you know anyone who writes about it more from a personal ethic situation rather than the global/national/war angle?

    1. Fr. Ted

      There is the book FOR THE PEACE FROM ABOVE: AN ORTHODOX RESOURCE BOOK ON WAR, PEACE AND NATIONALISM. Steve mentioned The Orthodox Peace Fellowship which has some resources on line. Fr. Stanley Harakas has written some on the topic and his views are similar to the OPF. Fr. Alexander Webster also wrote a book arguing there is a justifiable war theology in Orthodoxy and he disagrees with the OPF. His book is THE PACIFIST OPTION: THE MORAL ARGUMENT AGAINST WAR IN EASTERN ORTHODOX THEOLOGY. There obviously among Orthodox are some diverse opinions on some of these issues, in America, they often follow the political leanings of the individuals.

    2. Fr. Ted

      Maybe my favorite quote on the topic is from St. John Chrysostom: “Our warfare is to make the dead to live, not to make the living dead.”

  4. Hi Guy,
    The Orthodox Peace Fellowship has some stuff, but to be honest I’ve found that they don’t present the whole picture patristically nor philosophically. In the case of capital punishment and the Russian Orthodox Church’s document on it they blatantly mis-quote it to say exactly the opposite of what it really says. I have written to them regarding that and they have not taken the quote down. I did a seven part series on capital punishment that can be heard (there are also transcripts of the presentations there) on Ancient Faith Radio/ Steve the Builder. There are overlapping issues with war/capital punishment. It was a tough series to do because most of the modern synods of Bishops in America have come out against it. Feel free to email me at sevp dot robinson at gmail dot com if you wish to chat about the series after you’ve listened to them.

    1. Hey Steve,

      This is the same “Guy” who was emailing you a bit several months ago about leaving the Churches of Christ for Orthodoxy.

      i think i listened to everything on the Our Life In Christ site, but i haven’t checked out the Steve the Builder bit though. i’ll head over there and give your series a listen.

      My main concern in pacifism is the ethical response to personal encounters with violence. i honestly see capital punishment and even war as dialectically separate issues from the personal encounters with violence since there are species of pacifism that draw a distinction between the two or whose lines of justification are peculiar to one sphere.

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