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19 January 2018

Can peace precede justice?

Can peace precede justice?

Jo Frost is director of communications and marketing at the Evangelical Alliance. 

After “rocket-man” comments, test missile launches and arguments over whose red button is bigger, the situation on the Korean peninsula seemed to be going in only one direction. Then the news hit this week that North and South Korea will march together under one flag at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang 

Nothing has been said, following the high-level and diplomatic talks which have taken place over the last few weeks, in terms of peace agreements, treaties or the lessening of sanctions. Threat levels are still high and military powers are still posturing.  

So how did two countries who are, for all intents and purposes, enemies, agree to come together under a joint flag at the Olympics? 

As I read the story I struggled to comprehend how the last few months of escalation could lead to such a demonstrative display of unity. This a beautiful picture of grace and reconciliation, yet my own initial reaction was one of doubt and suspicion. I’ve read the reports made to the UN about North Korea, I’ve interviewed defectors. How could South Korea extend such a display of peace, when nothing is yet resolved? How could they be making such as gesture of reconciliation before any offers of justice? 

I cannot presume to know what diplomatic conversations have taken place, or why North and South Korea have agreed to this, but I can investigate my own reactions and check my response against Jesus’s teaching. Because he had a lot to say on the matter of justice and enemies.  

Luke 6:27-30 says, "But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back." 

I know this teaching – I’ve taught on this teaching! So why is it so jarring when I see it enacted on the world stage?  

Maybe it’s because it is so rare to see reconciliation precede justice. 

 In typical discourse, the pursuit of peace is the long game; it comes after restitution and recompense. Forgiveness comes after an apology. Reconciliation after truth.  

And yet time and time again Jesus advocates for peace now, reconciliation now. For us to forgive before our offender even knows they’ve done something wrong, let alone apologised for it. The gospel is offensive because of the unfairness of it. The injustice of it. Debts are wiped out, which means wrongs won’t always be righted when righteousness is restored.   

Everyday my relationship with Jesus deepens, and as it does I become more and more aware of how far from God’s perfection I am and how much He has forgiven. I didn’t know, couldn’t have known, the extent of the injustice of the cross in offering me forgiveness and yet here I am: forgiven far before I realised I had anything to apologise for.  

One translation of Psalm 85:10 reads, "Truth and Mercy have met together. Justice and Peace have kissed." This is a beautiful picture of the mystery of the cross. That all the facets of reconciliation come together in one place, at one time.  

I find myself reflecting that maybe the Koreans have understood something I have yet to; that we cannot wait for the steps of reconciliation to happen in the correct order. Relationships are messy and fluid. If the opportunity for peace presents itself – we should grasp it with both hands. Jesus calls us to love our enemies – to seek God’s blessing for them. We cannot wait to pray for those who hurt us to know that they've hurt us, and to apologise 

How can you pursue peace before justice, forgiveness for apology? What do you need to change as you live in the truth that, in Jesus, truth and mercy have already met together, justice and peace have already kissed.