The Key to Peace

The Key to Peace

When Moses stood on the mountain and gazed at the new world, he predicted that there would always be choices between life and death. The challenge is to choose life. 

It is not accidental that Krister (Stendahl) chose young listeners to speak to about these themes, both here and in his teaching career. Krister’s intention was always to invite thinkers to find additional paradigms in Scripture, to work beyond traditional boundaries. He knew that young minds are often courageous and open. 

Today young people continue to try to make sense of warfare and mass shootings. Blame runs rampant: too many guns, too many combat weapons, too much untended mental illness, too much violence in the media, too many hazards of climate change. But Krister placed the blame squarely in the midst of the central belief systems of the world’s diverse religious cultures. The religious roots of political violence were the problem to be addressed. 

Krister called his audience to turn, in the eye of the storm, to claim the richness that was in the middle of all of it. He put forward a case: not to reject religion, not to reject culture, indeed, not to reject each other; rather, to live in the middle and find the key to peace in the eye of the whirlwind of diverse religions. 

—Dr. Rebecca Pugh


Below is a reflection from the late theologian Krister Stendahl of Harvard Divinity School.

The Mending of Creation

It is striking that Jesus, who could have chosen from hundreds of concepts in his Jewish tradition or trillions of ideas from his infinite divinity, centers his message on something that he calls the Basileia tou Theou, the Malkuth, the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent. Seek ye first the Kingdom and its justice. Not its “righteousness”; that’s religious talk, something we have in church. Jesus speaks of plain, decent justice. That’s the mending of creation. That’s the salaam. 

Especially in the Gospel of Mark, I have the feeling that Jesus’ miracles, as seen from the point of view of the Gospel, and perhaps from the point of view of Jesus himself, are evidence of pushing back the frontier of Satan: healings; feedings; restoring the deranged mind; raising the prematurely dead. Have you ever thought about that? In the synoptic Gospels, the dead raised are young. Not a single oldie is raised. The mature life fully lived dies as nature wills. But Jairus’s daughter, and the widow’s son—those had been untimely deaths. They are restored, and that dirty double-crosser Satan is conquered. 

Have you ever thought about the fact that Jesus is never in the role of pastoral counselor? Never handholding. But where he sees hunger, he feeds—four thousand or five thousand (or nine thousand if you are a fundamentalist, because then you have to add the two.) He does something. We talk and call it “witness.” But the call that goes out from the miracles is to do something, to push back the frontier of Satan, and to offer yourself as a guinea pig for God to use towards the dream. “Seek ye first the Kingdom and its justice.” 

That’s what it is all about. Whether the Kingdom comes in this age or the next, whether it is this-worldly or otherworldly, the point is to be part of the Kingdom movement. I think Jesus himself had good days and bad days. There were days when he hoped the Kingdom would manifest itself here on earth, and there were days his only hope was that this dirty world would fall apart and yonder Kingdom come. But the Greek tense, engiken—“the Kingdom has drawn nigh”—is wonderfully and creatively ambiguous. Woe unto those who think they can nail down the grammar; it’s that vagueness which draws us into the Kingdom movement, the mending of creation. 

The Kingdom isn’t, as some people say, just the Rule of God. It is a mended world with people and animals—the whole thing, all of life grounded in shalom—a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness and justice dwell.  It is not a question about whether we win. It is healing. It is reconciling. It is redeeming. Not just souls, but the cosmos. Shalom. 


—Krister Stendahl, Roots of Violence: Creating Peace through Spiritual Reconciliation

Krister Stendahl, a Swedish-born Lutheran best known for his academic leadership at Harvard Divinity School and his tenure as Bishop of Stockholm (1984–1988), spent much of his career occupied with the question of “how to mend creation.” As a New Testament theologian, he turned to the Bible for insight into the origins of and solutions to violence. 


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