Swords into Plowshares

by Brian Walsh

I often visit an Old Order Mennonite community in Belize when I am teaching for the Creation Care Studies Program. This community has a mill that they have built on the side of a river. At the mill they both grind their grain and cut their wood. The whole place is a marvel of recycling. The guts of the operation consist of old drive shafts from junkyard pick-up trucks. But what I love the most about this place is that the large wheel around which the biggest saw blade rotates was salvaged off of an old British Army tank.

Talk about beating your swords into plowshares!

Here this community has taken an implement of war and transformed it into a tool of community building.

And that is the hope and longing of Advent. Isaiah says that when the Lord returns to Zion,

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not raise sword against nation,
neither will they learn war any more.

That’s the hope. That’s the longing that gets reignited every Advent.

We enter into a new year, the new year of the Christian calendar, not just with cheap resolutions and renewed optimism, but with a deep and aching longing for this hope to be fulfilled. We long for the angel’s words to be true, “Peace on earth and goodwill to all.” We long anew for the coming of the Prince of Peace.

So here’s my question. If this is the heart of Christian hope, then why are Christians such a violent tribe on the face of the earth? Or, at the risk of sounding indelicate, why are Christians in North America, especially evangelical Christians, amongst the most war-mongering, national-security, support-our-troops, kill-the-enemy, and bring-back-capital-punishment folks in the population?

Well, I think there are lots of reasons, but I’m going to suggest that a decidedly unbiblical eschatology is at the heart of the problem. You see, if you have a hope that is more concerned with going to heaven and seeing your enemies all face the cataclysm of divine wrath, then language of swords beaten into plowshares and nations no longer raising swords against nations will not make any sense to you. There are too many pagans out there who will need to feel the wrath of the sword, or the Exocet missile as the case may be.

There are lots of ways to miss Advent. Having a misplaced hope in a heavenly existence outside of the realities of this broken world is one of the most sure ways to miss the point.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

2 Responses to “Swords into Plowshares”

  1. andrew

    Brian – Great post.

    On Sunday, many Christians throughout the world read that very same passage alongside an apocalyptic-sounding passage from Matthew’s gospel:

    “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

    If you’re talking about an unbiblical eschatology, what do we do with this? Passages like this have spawned songs like Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” Each verse in that song ends with the lyric: “the Son has come and you’ve been left behind.”

    I suppose you’re suggesting it’s a good thing to be left behind. In the context of the gospel passage and its references to Noah perhaps it would be better to be left behind (to continue the work of God on earth) than to be swept away. What do you think?

    • Brian

      Thanks for the question, Andrew. Hold that thought and wait for a post tomorrow.


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