Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kingdom Of Peace (part 1 of 3)

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:1  (NET)

Though this is an obvious understatement, Paul has said much.  Having done so, he begins to reach some immediate conclusions and logical deductions that are forced by the things that he has presented in what must be understood to be the building argument of the first four chapters of the letter to the church at Rome.  Those deductions begin with “Therefore.”  He writes “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).  Having been brought into the covenant people (declared righteous) through the instrumentality of faith (belief in God and its concurrent unswerving loyalty to the claims made by that God, per the example of Abraham), a state of peace between humanity and God is engendered.  This peace is attached to the Lord, who is Jesus, who is the Christ (the Anointed One/Messiah/King). 

“Peace” operates on a number of levels.  One of those levels will be overtly addressed by Paul in relatively short order.  A second level of the operation of “peace,” which is more subtle and subversive, is surely also implied, and we can see through it the juxtaposition and choice of particular words used at this particular place in the letter.  What’s subtle and subversive in the use of peace?  Doesn’t everybody desire peace?  Answering that question and addressing that issue requires us to ask another question and to see where that might lead us. 

About what might a citizen of Rome think when they hear the word “peace”?  It would be much more than an inward state of bliss or mellow contentment, or a cessation of against-ness, or of a lack of spiritual conflict.  The fact that Paul will go on to describe peace with God, the need for peace with God, and the way that such peace is generated, might inform us that these particular dimensions of peace (with which Paul deals in verses six through eleven of this chapter) would not necessarily spring to mind when Paul speaks of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

It may very well be the case that Paul expects his Roman audience, as they are fully ensconced within the city of Rome and therefore live at the seat of Roman imperial ideology and its associated imperial theology and attendant propaganda, to think of the “pax Romana,” or “Roman peace” when he writes to them concerning peace.  This was an exalted ideal for Rome, as they imagined themselves to be the bringers of peace and justice to the world, with this having begun under the revered and exalted Emperor Caesar Augustus.  This peace, of course, was brought about primarily through military conquest.  Following military conquest when Rome deemed it necessary (some would simply acquiesce to the power of Rome without raising arms against them), the Roman peace would be secured by the ongoing threat of the exercise of military power. 

Together with that, any thoughts of rebellion were quelled and quenched by the reminder of Rome’s power of life over death, with this best (and most horribly) embodied by the Roman cross, as it was the means of execution reserved for recalcitrant slaves and rebels against Rome.  Crucifixion was employed to send a political message.  Even the crucifixion of a recalcitrant slave would convey Rome’s political might, as it reminded those that would witness the event, because of its also being used as a means of execution for those that challenged the power of Caesar, that all were slaves of Rome. 

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