Is peace an absence of something?
To me one of the most memorable lines of song comes from Moxy Füvous’s gulf war song:
Don’t tell me I can’t fight
’cause I’ll punch out your lights
To me, this points out with beautiful succinctness the main problem with the most-often cited kind of peace.
Darkness is the absence of light. It has no substance in itself; add light and darkness simply vanishes. Likewise, silence is the absence of sound, dryness the absence of liquid, and so on.
But not all things that appear to be absences are always without substance. Hunger, for example, seems like the absence of nourishment but is actually a much more complicated phenomenon involving the presence of various hormones, the absence of adrenalin, a cognitive recognition of the value of food, and so on.
What of peace? Is it the absence of violence, or something more substantive?
In days of yore, the word “peace” probably11 My etymology dictionaries are unified on asserting this, but I say “probably” because they assert it came from that root so long ago that I have trouble believing there can be very strong evidence. came from the same root as “pact”: it was the presence of a promise not to introduce violence. I like this definition, and the related idea that peace is trust that others will not harm you. It is something you have, not the absence of something else.
The most common sources of peace that I see in the world around me seem to be achieved by a combination of prosperity (an incentive for the status-quo) and peace-keepers (a disincentive for roughing up others). But these sources, as well as others that promote nonviolence, bring me peace only insofar as the successfully stop others from being violent. They are a positive presence seeking to maintain an absence in the same way insulation’s presence can maintain an absence of sound. A compromise between being and not being.
Christ famously stated John 14:27 “my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth”. He gives a peace that is not based on a lack of violence nor on a presence that can reliably suppress violence but rather on a different, more fully positive presence. He offers a change of perspective, a redefinition of what is valuable that removes others ability to harm one. With an eye on eternity, mere insults and physical wounds are no longer a threat. Peace arrives by providing an anchor above violence.