Friday my wife and I saw the move “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” One strand that ran through the movie had me thinking about issues of war and peace, especially as related to Christianity, and Jesus particular beatitude that reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” When Jesus made this statement, it was before a large crowd, more than likely consisting of quite a few of those who believed that when Israel’s God did return, as the Messiah, or however else they envision it, Israel would overthrow the Roman’s, defeat the pagans, and return to national greatness. This was the way of violence and war.
Before continuing, I want to lay out the movie for us, so I can put that in its frame as well. Humanity has almost wiped itself out due both to a plague and infighting. Meanwhile, a community of apes has formed under the leadership of Caesar, living just outside San Francisco in the redwood forest. These apes come into contact with a group of humans that have picked up residence in San Francisco and are trying to restart the power from a dam near the Ape’s home. From the beginning there is clear hostility. Except for those born since, all the apes came from being imprisoned by humans, in some instances being tortured. The apes make a show of force and tell the humans to stay in their home and the apes will stay in their home. While the majority of humans prepare for war, a man, along with a few others (including a misfit who hates the apes), decides to go to the ape village in order to attempt a peaceful resolution, and Caesar reluctantly goes along with the plans, but ready at a moments notice to end this deal.
Not all the apes are on board with this. Koba wants to fight off the humans, but Caesar knows that a war could cost too many ape lives. With great effort and determination, peace between the two sides is within sight. The power is back on, and it looks like everything might turn out the for the best. However, the hotheads, led by Koba, do not care and are only motivated by hatred. Within a few minutes, all the hard won peace, goes down the drain and at the end, even though Koba is defeated, war between humans and apes is imminent.
War and conflict is so easy to get into. Peace is hard work. It takes effort, because you need to be willing to trust those who are your enemies. War is truly the cowards way out. Peace is for the courageous. It seems in our day though that it is always the hotheads that prevail. Whether it be those in Hamas who are determined to wipe Israel off the map, or those in Ukraine and Russia who hold grudges, or in Iraq. The past few days have visibly demonstrated how difficult peace is.
“Blessed are the peacemakers.” In Jesus day, this would have greatly offended those who wanted war with the Romans. They wanted conflict to establish Israel’s greatness. They hated their enemies, but Jesus called them to love their enemies and pray for those who hurt you. Blessed are those who are persecuted for Jesus name. Today, this greatly offends those who want war, who hate their enemies and long for revenge rather than righteousness. As a church we need to take stock. We often say that war is only for last resort, but do we really live by that? How do we go about doing the courageous work of making peace, both individually, corporately, and internationally? War may solve a few problems, but even in wars considered “just”, more problems are always created. I am not a pacifist, and I think the movie actually does a good job at the end showing that sometimes, war is indeed necessary. But it is an unfortunate necessity. May we always choose to do the hard work of peacemaking, rather than the cowards way of war making.