Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906. He became one of the key figures in the resistance to Nazism. Because of his indirect role in a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler he was imprisoned and later executed on April 9, 1945.
Bonhoeffer has been quoted by theologians of varying viewpoints. But one of his lasting legacies has been his warning against cheap grace. He said cheap grace is "the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession." From an evangelical perspective we have maintained a deep awareness of the cost of redemption in the self-giving of Jesus, but have sometimes been weak about the cost of discipleship in the self-giving of each one of us.
At the present, however, much anxiety, thought and prayer are directed to the subject of peace. Are we in danger of promoting "cheap peace"?
The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. When in Israel last February, I found it the one essential word – even when relating to English-speaking Jews in shops and accommodation places. Shalom is a very rich word. It speaks of wholeness, well-being, prosperity… It is a positive condition where life is as it should be.
By contrast, our word "peace" is inclined to be negative – the absence of hostility. There are many Christian (and other) calls for a cessation of hostility in Afghanistan and the Holy Land. But would that necessarily be true shalom or just another "cheap peace"?
Reflect on Jeremiah 6.14 (and 8.11), "[prophets and priests] dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace."
The situation among the Lord’s people was not at all good – shameless greed and deceit, rejection of the Law, lying prophets… (see chapter 5). It was wrong to talk about "peace" when these ills hadn’t been corrected.
The events of September 11 have led inevitably to a war on terrorism. It is naïve to imagine that there can be "peace" where terrorists are free to mastermind and perform such acts with impunity – whatever our opinion of the way world leaders are attempting to redress the situation.
But we should all think long and hard about whether the "freedom and way of life" we are fighting to protect may not also be "cheap peace" – with immorality and violence, inequities and injustice…
Jesus wept over Jerusalem – "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Luke 13.34).
Paul wrote, "For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit" Ephesians 2.14-18).
In the final count, there cannot be "peace on earth" without "glory to God in the highest" – without receiving and welcoming the one who came to be our Saviour Christ the Lord.
The peace he offers is genuine and comes at the cost of his own life given for us. As we receive it we give all of our lives to the one who gave his all for us.
Let us be sure in all our talking and teaching that we don’t settle for "cheap peace." And as we pray for world peace at the present time, let us pray that people throughout the world – Muslims and Jews, communists and capitalists, agnostics and atheists… – will come to recognise and receive the genuine costly peace offered to us in Jesus. Let us commit ourselves afresh to live out the costly peace of Jesus in this unsettled world.
© Peter J. Blackburn, NFFR Onward, December 2001