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A Bible Study on the Theme of Peace

by Dr. Roger Gaikwad

Roger has just been elected as chairperson of WSCF AP for 2004-2006. Also the current chairperson of SCM India, Roger hails from Kolkata and has been active in the SCM since the age of 10! This paper was written in the form of a manual to encourage a participatory approach in the bible study process.

Tools required:

An A4 size sheet of blank paper to be given to each person, also a sketch-pen or ball-pen or any other suitable writing/drawing instrument may need to be given. Each person must also have his/her own bible.

Method of study:

There should be a chief coordinator for this study. Each person must be asked to draw a picture of peace. It is ideal that the Coordinator does not give any clue to the people. The Coordinator should tell them, “Simply draw whatever idea or picture which comes to your mind when you think of the word ‘peace’.” The participants should be encouraged to be original and creative in their thinking. The emphasis should not be on the artistic skill of the people. Rather it should be on the thought or idea of peace which each person seeks to communicate through his/her picture or symbol, etc. A fixed period of time must be given to the participants for drawing their idea or picture of peace.

The Study

There are different ways by which the Coordinator could begin the bible study. If the number of participants is small, then he/she could subdivide them into groups according to the similarity of the pictures drawn. If the number of participants is large, then it might take too much time in making them sit in groups according to the similarity of their drawings. The Coordinator could then go round making a quick survey of the different subjects featured in the drawings, or he/she could ask, “Have any of you drawn a picture of a dove or a bird? Please raise your hands.” The persons could then be asked to stand up, hold their drawings high and show them to the other people present. Once the grouping or exhibiting of the drawings is done, then the Coordinator could start a discussion and biblical reflection on them.

Dove with Olive Twig [and other similar drawings]

The Coordinator should ask the persons concerned, “What message does your drawing seek to convey?” The Coordinator should be prepared to receive different answers. He/She should then say, “Let us see what meaning the symbolism of the dove with the twig has in the bible.”

“Let us turn to Genesis 8:6-12. This passage narrates the episode of Noah sending out a raven and then a dove from his ark after the flood. In its first flight the dove flies around and returns to the ark. In its second flight the dove comes back with a freshly plucked olive leaf in its mouth.

“The symbolism of the dove in the bible gives us significant insights. The moaning of the dove is compared to the moaning of those who suffer from calamities, injustice, etc. Let us turn to Isaiah 38:14[Somebody may be asked to read it] ‘Like a swallow or a crane I clamor, I moan like a dove. My eyes are weary with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be thou my security!’ So also let us look at Isaiah 59:11[Expect somebody to read it] ‘We all growl like bears, we moan and moan like doves; we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.’

“The dove is not only a symbol of human suffering; it is also associated with hope, especially when it is pictured with an olive leaf in its mouth. In early Mesopotamian art, the olive is occasionally depicted as the ‘Tree of Life’. We are all aware of the symbolism of the tree of life in Gen. 2:9; 3:22, 24. The tree of life belongs to that category of objects which have the power of bestowing eternal life, such as life-giving plants, water and fruits. The importance of the olive tree to the whole Mediterranean area from very early times is witnessed by numerous references to it in ancient literature. Use of the tree and its fruit for food, fuel, light, carpentry, ointments, medicines, etc., touched almost every phase of daily life. Therefore the symbolism of the dove with the olive leaf in its mouth is very significant. It indicates the hope of reconstruction in the midst of destruction. It stands for the joyful promise of life when one is grieved by death. In Rev. 22:1-2 while there is no mention of a dove, we do find mention of the tree of life. This tree of life bears twelve kinds of fruit and its leaves are meant for the healing of the nations.

So then what is the peace which the dove, or any other bird, with a twig in its mouth signifies? It is neither some romantic ideal of serenity nor some proposal of compromise or of temporary truce, but the vision of healing, reconstruction and growth.”

People shaking hands, greeting one another or even embracing or The Cross Symbol

Once again the Coordinator should ask the persons concerned, “What message does your drawing seek to convey?” In general however people might say that shaking hands, greeting, or embracing signifies forgiveness, reconciliation, and goodwill. The Coordinator should then say, “The practice of shaking hands may not be found in the bible, but one comes across instances of embracing and kissing as a mark of forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us look at Genesis 32:6-8; 33:1-4. [Expect someone to read the verses]

“Why was Jacob afraid of meeting Esau? [Some person might give an answer] Yes, there are two important reasons. The first is that Jacob had cheated Esau of his birth-right (Gen.25:29-34). The second is that Jacob had cheated Esau of the paternal blessing (Gen.27:32-36). Esau was therefore determined to kill him (Gen.27:41).Jacob had then fled from Esau, and now after several years they were going to meet face to face. Jacob was restless. Would his brother ever forgive him or would Esau take just revenge for all the injustice Jacob had done to him? Even at this moment there was no spirit of repentance on Jacob’s part. He still selfishly planned to escape. [Somebody may be expected to read Gen. 32:7-8].

“But see the gracious forgiving spirit of Esau. He runs to meet Jacob, embraces him, falls on his neck and kisses him. Overcome by all that was happening, they both wept. Did Esau forgive Jacob for all the wrongs done to him by his brother? Yes, Esau forgave him. Not only forgiveness, but the memories of the bitter experiences of the past were forgotten. Furthermore, Esau was willing to grant all manner of help to Jacob on the journey ahead. It is like you not only forgive a thief (who has already stolen your goods) but also offer him some money as the thief goes on his way home. Did Jacob really repent? One hopes that he did so.

“What is the meaning of peace in this episode? [Expect people to respond] Yes, peace involves reconciliation among human beings. It is the breaking down of walls or barriers that have separated people. It expresses the spirit of forgiving the wrong done and forgetting all the bitterness associated with it. In some cases, if possible, the person who has committed the wrong will make appropriate restitution. Furthermore peace implies the cultivation of a bond of goodwill among persons as they together face the present and the future. However if the Jacobs do not sincerely repent, will the peace offered by the gracious Esaus really be effective? [Expect differing views. Be prepared to give responsible comments]

“The Cross of Jesus Christ is a very special symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation. Through the cross, God reconciles all creation—which had been separated from God because of human sinfulness—to God’s own self. This is how Paul interprets the cross in Colossians 1:19-20. [The passage should be read] Rom. 5:6-11 offers an elaborate commentary on the significance of the reconciling cross. [This passage should then be read]. Unrighteous human beings can be reconciled to the righteous God only when the barrier of human unrighteousness is removed. This is what the cross signifies. Moreover the cross of Christ also facilitates reconciliation among estranged human beings. Paul once again provides an elaborate interpretation in Ephesians 2:13-16. [Expect somebody to read the text].How do you look at the significance of the cross of Jesus Christ?[Encourage the participants to share their perspectives/experiences]. Yes the cross is a special symbol for most of us of forgiveness, reconciliation, and a new communitarian way of living as the Ephesians passage emphasizes. We should not limit the cross to only individual peace with God.

Scenery of Beauty and Tranquillity (sun-rise/sun-set/full moon
with starry sky over mountains, river, village, town, etc.) or

A Picture of the Universe, Solar System, etc

Once again the Coordinator should ask the persons concerned, “What message does your drawing seek to convey?” The Coordinator should be prepared to receive different answers. In general, participants may say that the picture depicts harmony in nature or in the universe. All of creation shares in the joy of being inter-related or integrated with one another. The bliss of this co-related togetherness is called peace.

Pictures of such natural harmony are also found in the bible. For example, let us look at Gen. 2:8-10, 15. [Ask somebody to read it]. Here, as we all are aware, mention is made of the Garden of Eden. The name Eden seems to be connected to the ancient Akkadian word “edinu” meaning a flat green place, an alluvial plain, etc. Its Persian parallel is Paradise.

In the Old Testament, Eden, the garden of God is proverbial as a place of fertility and beauty. Look at Is. 51:3 and Joel 2:3. It is a place of pleasure. One Hebrew connotation of the word Eden makes it a garden of delight. Eden symbolises the state of unbroken fellowship between God, human beings and the rest of creation. The joy of the Edenic life depends very much on the principle of conformity of all creation, including human beings, to the laws or principles of the creator. Wherever such integrated harmony exists, there is peace.

This is precisely what is implied in God’s assessment of the creative process in Genesis Chapter One where it is repeatedly mentioned, “And God saw that it was good”. [See verses 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31]. Peace involves order and harmony in the cosmos. But then what sort of an order and harmony is the bible talking about? Within such a framework, each creature is given the space and opportunity to express its essential characteristics or uniqueness. It is a harmony of diversity. It is a harmony which preserves and facilitates life. However when human beings fail to fulfill their responsibility of stewardship of creation then there is chaos, and so no peace. What are some of the examples or instances of human irresponsibility in relation to nature? [Encourage people to share information and experiences]. It is because of our failure in attending to nature responsibly that Paul writes something about the longing of all creation in Rom. 8: 19-21 [Expect somebody to read it].

Among the images of the ideal future, in the bible, we have a picture of all nature living in harmony. Would somebody read Isaiah 11:6-9? Here the spirit of harmony is heightened to the extent that what is considered impossible in the normal course of nature is now presented as a reality. Earthly opposites are now posited together: the wolf dwelling with the lamb, the leopard lying with the kid, the calf resting beside the lion, and so on. If you are familiar with Phantom comic stories, then you would recall the picturisation of Eden as being exactly such a place. What do you think Is. 11:6-9 is trying to say? [Encourage people to share their views]. To me this passage totally eradicates the thought and practice of violence from nature’s view and way of life. One expression of this we find in Isaiah 65:25 [Let the passage be read]. It is the height of peace on earth.

People protesting against violence, destroying weapons, etc.

As on previous occasions the Coordinator will ask the participants, “What message do your drawings seek to convey?” The answers of the people will emphasize the following points: violence cannot be justified as the proper means to achieve an end; violence smacks of the contemptible principle, ‘Might is right’; violence spells destruction, breeds hatred and counter-violence; violence disrespects the sanctity of life; God has called us to practice love and cultivate peace in society. The Coordinator should commend the participants for their insights. He/She should then go on to say, “Can we recall any verses from the Bible that do not approve of violence?” [The Coordinator should be ready to receive different verses from the participants]

The Coordinator goes on to say, “Yes, there are several verses which denounce violence such as Exodus 20: 13 or Deut. 5:17 [In case the verse has not been quoted by the participants, then get it read]. Paul encourages people to live peaceably with others in Rom. 12:14-21 [The passage may be read out if it was done so before]. Jesus also repudiates violence in Matt. 26:51-53 [If necessary, the passage may be read out]. We need to remind ourselves that violence is not merely the exertion of physical harm on the body of a person. Violence can also have verbal and mental expressions. Let us see what Jesus says in Matt. 5:21-22,27-28 [The passage may be read out]. A system or a structure can also be violent. For instance, let us try to understand the reason of Jesus’ action of the cleansing of the Temple in Matt. 21:12-13 or of Jesus’ criticism of the Jewish law of divorce in Matt.19:3-9. Here we find indications of the violence of the patriarchal system and of religious structures and practices [Discuss the issues]

However is there anything such as ‘justified violence’ or a ‘just war’? [Here the Coordinator may expect differences in opinion] Here one must be clear about what we mean by violence. Violence as the deliberate use of any kind of force to attain selfish ends at the cost of the dignity and well-being of others cannot be justified. So also a distinction needs to be made between the use of violence and the use of disciplinary methods or acts of self-defense. It is the violence which arises out of selfishness, jealousy, hatred, pride, communalism, and unjust socio-economic, scientific-technological, religio-cultural and political systems that the bible condemns.

Therefore the bible presents us images of people doing away with weapons of destruction and transforming them into instruments of constructive use. Let us look [Add if necessary, “As was mentioned earlier by one of our friends”] at Isaiah 2:4 [The passage may be read out]. We have a similar passage in Micah 4:3. In fact Micah goes on to give a beautiful image of consequent peaceful living in the society in verse 4. [Expect the passage to be read] What implications do such verses have for us in the context of the manufacturing of nuclear, chemical and other weapons? [Encourage people to share]

Pictures of Happy Times among Human Beings or
Pictures of “Plentifulness” (abundant harvest, table laden with food, etc)

Once again the Coordinator should ask the persons concerned, “What message does your drawing seek to convey?” In general the participants may say: Peace is the absence of fear; Peace is the provision of basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter to all people; Peace is the enjoyment of good health by all; Peace is the enjoyment of good health by all; Peace is the availability of dignified employment for all; Peace is the operation of an economic system of justice and holistic growth. The Coordinator should then ask, “Can you quote any biblical references which give us such messages of peace?” [Note down what the participants say and then systematically outline them adding passages which others might not have mentioned]

The Coordinator then says, “Let us begin by reading Psalm 128 [After the whole psalm is read].Though this psalm is written from a patriarchal perspective, it gives us a beautiful picture of peace in the family and indirectly in the society. God-fearing people enjoy a sense of security in life. There seems to be law, order and justice in the society. People enjoy the fruit of their labour. Their family lives are also blessed. Yet another picture of peaceful bliss we find in Psalm 144: 12-15 [Somebody may be asked to read the verses] The blessings of children who grow up to be healthy, beautiful and useful youth in society, of abundant harvest, of healthy and plentiful cattle, and of no sign of distress in the streets implies not simply miraculous blessings from above, but also a good, wise and just system of administration in the society. We need to note that peace is not some inner emotion of happiness of an individual; rather it is a corporate experience which arises from a structure of justice and wholesome growth which operates in a God-respecting community. Jesus very clearly understood peace (as symbolised by the Jubilee Year tradition in Leviticus 25) as the fruit of liberative movements and reforms in society. Let us read Luke 4:18-19 [The passage must be read].

The vision of justice, liberation, growth, and all-round happiness as constitutive of peace we also find in Isaiah 65:17-23 [Somebody reads]. It is also found in a shorter form in Rev.21:1-4 [The passage be read]. Another related visionary passage is Ezekiel 34:25-31 [Expect somebody to read]. In the light of these three passages what would be our vision of peace in the context of our contemporary challenges? [Encourage people to share].

Braving the storm, Blooming in the midst of thorns, The Cross, etc.

The Coordinator may expect the participants to give some of the following interpretations: Peace is the courage to stand for what is true and just even in the context of hostile opposition; Peace is a life-long commitment, with no regrets, to be of helpful service to others even though one is constantly pricked by aggressive elements; Peace is the power to face martyrdom for the sake of a noble cause. Having received the interpretations of their drawings, the Coordinator then asks, “What bible verses or passages can we recall which fit in with our interpretations?” [After noting down what the participants say, the Coordinator may go on to highlight some of the important passages]

“Let us begin by looking at Psalm 4. [Somebody may be asked to read it] This is a psalm of confidence expressed by a person who is facing hostile circumstances. Since it is ascribed to David and since it follows Psalm 3 which is captioned ‘A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son’, Psalm 4 could be said to express David’s confidence in God as he suffered opposition and humiliation. Even if it is not connected to the previous psalm, Psalm 4 could well be understood as the defense of a high official (king or high priest) against charges that he had abused his office. Others consider this psalm to be a God-trusting person’s reproof of those who have been led to apostasy because of a succession of bad harvests. In general we may say that Psalm 4 is an exhortation of a person of faith to those who have been disheartened by hard times.

Notice how God is described in the first verse. God is said to be ‘God of my right’ or ‘my just God’. What does this mean? [Expect some responses] Yes, God is declared to be the vindicator of the cause of those who are suffering unjust opposition and oppression. In the first verse itself, the psalmist describes God as “creating room” for him (the psalmist is most probably male). This is a beautiful expression for God’s salvation: giving space and freedom to those who are bound. The psalmist has experienced God’s saving intervention in the past, and so this is the basis of his confidence as faces new challenges. In verse 6, the psalmist observes that his enemies or oppressors do not trust God and therefore fret and whine whenever things do not go the way they want them to be. But the fellowship which the psalmist has with God gives him greater joy than what his enemies would derive from the worldly things they covet. This is what he says in verse 7. Moreover, in verse 8 he says that even though he is surrounded by trials and tribulations he will lie down and sleep in peace. He trusts in God’s protection. Note carefully here that peace is not merely an emotional feeling. It arises out of a relationship with God; it gives a person the conviction of the justness of his/her cause. Also note that peace does not mean the absence of problems; rather peace is the maturity with which you face your problems.

Let us look at Psalm 23:4-5[Expect somebody to read].What is the basis of one’s peace as he/she walks through the valley of the shadow of death or if he/she is besieged by the enemy? [Expect people to answer] Yes, it is one’s relationship with God whom the psalmist describes as Shepherd in verse 4 and as Host in verse 5. Here again let me reiterate that a person facing certain challenges of life may experience excruciating pain and he/she may find it difficult to bear it, yet the suffering does not lead one to compromise one’s stand nor does one lose one’s trust in God. Can you recall a person in the gospels in whose life we see this happening? Yes, in the experience of Jesus, particularly on the cross. Somebody read Matt. 27:45-50. Somebody else read John 19:28-30. Where does Paul in his writings give expression to this kind of peace? Let us read Rom.8:28, 31-39. [If time permits and if the participants are enthusiastic, then the Coordinator may encourage people to share some thoughts or comments at this point]

Conclusion

The Coordinator has to be ready to bring in biblical insights from other drawings not discussed in this study. For example, the picture of hands raised in benediction. [For this image refer to Numbers 6:22-26, John 14:27 and Luke 24:50-53]. It is not that one can always come up with related scripture verses for all the drawings. So also it does not mean that the Coordinator should have encyclopaedic knowledge of the bible. He/She can always draw out biblical insights from the participants themselves.

Well, we have looked at the drawings and tried to see biblical messages on the meaning of peace. In the light of all that we have seen and discussed, what would you say is peace? [Encourage the people to have a comprehensive yet contextually relevant understanding of peace]