If you want peace, work for justice… really?

I ran across this bumper sticker slogan today as I was leaving a local coffee shop. My first thought upon reading it was, “Yup, that’s right.” And then I thought again, “Really?” I mean, it is a neat slogan, and it isn’t the first time I’ve seen it. In fact I really like it. But as I thought about it, I realized that there are some assumptions buried deep within this seemingly innocuous statement. These assumptions are deeply and profoundly mistaken.

Assumption 1: The cause of war or violence is injustice

The implicit nature of this assumption becomes clear when you look at the statement itself: If there were no injustice, there would be peace. This is definitely untrue. Indeed much of the violence in human history, whether the violence of spousal abuse and homicide, or genocide and war between nations is itself unjust. Injustice is not the cause of violence. There is much violence in the world that has nothing to do with injustice and is not a response to it. Contrary to what many have been taught to believe, sometimes people do evil and violent things simply out of malice, hatred, or ill will. Sometimes, there is no justification nor explanation for the wrong that people do. Sometimes there is injustice, or the violence done by poverty and oppression to the human spirit, and such conditions make reciprocal violence all the more plausible or likely. But many times, it is the violent who bring about injustice.

Assumption 2: The presence of injustice is a justification for violence

Yes, there is a threat of violence inherent in the rather innocuous bumper sticker. You see if you want peace, you must work for justice. Otherwise there will be no peace. So then is violence is an expected or at least appropriate response to injustice? Is it justifiable to respond to unjust conditions with violence? Are those who have been subject to oppression and injustice somehow unable to act with restraint or are they somehow slaves to their situation?

Assumption 3: Peace can be “worked for”

This sentiment seems to be the most innocent of all, but is it really? In a purely secular sense, yes, social equity and the absence of violence can be worked towards. But inherent in the maintenance of any society is the power to enforce the social order, which includes, by necessity, the threat or actual use of violence. Sure, it isn’t something we like to admit, but until the final king comes in glory, all human societies and government enforce the existing social order through force. True peace, that is shalom, is much more than the absence of conflict or violence. It is the positive presence of a just, equitable and holy order wherein there is space for human flourishing. Such a world is not attainable by human effort, but is only foreseeable in God’s economy. Even then, it is the authority of the sovereign Lord that establishes and maintains that order. And what we perceive of as a more perfect form of government; democracy, has historically come through the violence of war and revolution and sometimes a literal “coup d’etat.”

Author: elderj

I was born the fourth child and third son of godly parents in Nashville Tennessee. After leaving home for college I got involved with InterVarsity, then graduated with a degree in finance. After that I got a masters in history. Nowadays I spend too much time reading, writing, thinking, and occasionally doing my job.

6 thoughts on “If you want peace, work for justice… really?”

  1. Joshua, I just told Dave… “Dave, I just love Joshua Settles,… cuz he all deep & junk.”

    I love your reflections on the election.. you are so well spoken (sheesh I’m jealous).

    anyhoo, add me to your blogroll, punk!

    see ya big bro

  2. Happy New Year brother, we haven’t conversed in a while. Like many things in the world, the interpretation of the bumper sticker is left up to the individual and the infinite number of definitions that the notion of justice generates. To a man of God such as yourself, your idea of justice is generated by your theology and the foundation in the Word. For a non-believer or a believer involved in another faith system, the idea of justice can run directly counter to that of yours. In fact, they may see your attempt to stand up for justice in one area (abortion perhaps) as an injustice toward them and their freedoms. In each of the points that you provided, without a common definition of justice, little or nothing can be achieved without the capitulation of one side.

    Now, Free Tibet! – That’s a bumper sticker! (Free Tibet with the purchase of one tibet of equal or lesser value?)

  3. Most of the people responding and those babbling on need to look up what Sophism is, because that is the kind of thinking you are doing.

  4. My answer to “If you want peace, work for justice” is “If you want justice, fight for freedom.” I think I’ll get about a thousand bumper stickers printed up – should sell well at tea party get-togethers.

  5. it is not ture that only justice is peace that we are looking for.Somebody should an Enternal peace for otherwise He/She may pertinent, that He/She is doing justice.
    Even to love, if you test love for yourself, you can love other, because love is from within a person that why nobody I love unless He/She should love Him/Herself and He/she feelthat love then He/She can say I love,for love strt from within.
    Even our Lord said love God your lord with your heat ,mind and soul and your Brother and Sister as you love yourself.

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