I happened to be leafing through Chapter 25 of Genesis when I was struck by its relevance to many of today’s most pressing issues. At some indeterminate time, I may get around to how the first chapter of this book seems to conform to modern cosmology’s explanation of the origin of the universe came to be, but for know, I’ll stick to 25.
In Chapter 25 we are told that Abraham remarried after Sarah’s death. His new wife was Keturah, who for phantasmagorical reasons some scholars think is Hagar. – Ishmael’s mother, who along with her son was cast into the desert by Sarah’s jealousy I’ll let this go as I will Ishmael’s unexplained appearance at Abraham’s funeral.
But it is interesting that Keturah bore Abraham six sons. We are not told if she also produced daughters. We are also not told what explained this miraculous fecundity on Abraham’s part after more than a century and a quarter of relative infertility. Abraham also had sons by concubines to whom he gave gifts. But after his death his entire estate went to Isaac.
At the end the chapter we are informed of Ishmael’s progeny and of their territorial range. The very last fragment of this chapter says of Ishmael’s descendents: “they made raids against all their kinsmen.” Thus Abraham’s legacy was to leave the Levant littered with his mishpochah who proceeded to make war against one another, a state of bellicosity that has persisted ever since.
It is this condition that I wish to comment on. Most religions routinely pray for peace. Something along the lines of: Grant us peace, Your most precious gift, O Eternal Source of peace, and give us the will to proclaim its message to all the peoples of the earth. Something is precious in proportion to its scarcity. Since I cannot find a single year since Abraham’s death when all the world was at peace, peace must be valued beyond measure. So while it is good to pray for it, it is foolish to expect it.
If you live your life under the misapprehension that all disputes can be peacefully resolved, you are not only condemned to disappointment, but also are at risk of annihilation. Yet people of good will continue to act as if this superfluity of good will is enough to change our rough world to something more regular. No amount of evidence seems able to break these Panglossian putative pacifists of their irenic view of our angry world.
About 16 centuries past, the historian of the later Roman Empire Vegetius, wrote Si vis pacem, para bellum. (If you would have peace, prepare for war.) More recently, the American philosopher George Santayana observed, “That only the dead have seen the end of war.”(often misattributed to Plato)
What are the disputes that are most likely to end in widespread violence? There only a few that spring to the top of the list. Religion is certainly foremost. All you need do is look at our current world. No amount of language legerdemain will obscure the reason for the long security lines at our airports. If you think that the Christian West has put religious strife to rest, just look at the recent history of Ireland.
People will also fight over politics, if the gulf is wide enough; land and national pride are also causus belli. Unfortunately, it often takes only a small minority of a population to set all of it to war. Thus, proclaiming that a majority of whatever population is under examination desires peace may be meaningless if an active minority of their brethren desires conflict.
It seems entirely appropriate to pray to God for peace as it seems only He can provide it. Why He has chosen to withhold this priceless gift for so long is known only to Him. In the meantime praise the Lord and pass the ammunition – if you would have no need of it. Remember, Si vis pacem, para bellum.