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William Grimm, a native of New York City, is a missioner and presbyter who since 1973 has served in Japan, Hong Kong and Cambodia.
Lord, make me an instrument
Published: August 04, 2010 04:07 PM
Lord, make me an instrument

Aug. 6 will mark the 65th anniversary of the first time a nuclear weapon was used in war. Aug. 9 will mark the 65th anniversary of the last time a nuclear weapon was used in war. Aug. 15 will mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the most extensive, destructive war in human history.

Those atomic bombs that exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended World War II, a war that had cost more than 60 million lives. Those horrible weapons saved hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, more. One of the lives that was saved may have been that of my father, who was a 23-year-old soldier training to be a light machine gunner in the invasion of Japan, having previously been an army truck driver in the Aleutian Islands campaign against the Japanese in Alaska.

Japanese defense preparations and the experience of landings on Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa make it clear that the planned allied invasion of the Japanese homeland would have been a bloodbath for both sides.

For those who pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, it is a disturbing realization that it took the evil of a world war to defeat Nazism’s attempt to eradicate or enslave whole groups of people — the handicapped, homosexuals, Jews, Roma, Slavs — and Japanese imperialism that imposed a cruel military and economic dictatorship on a huge swath of Asia.

Especially at this time of year, Christians sing or say a prayer for peace mistakenly attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. Actually, the prayer that begins, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace," was composed almost seven centuries after the saint’s death. When around 1916 it was printed on a poster featuring a picture of the saint, people assumed that he had written it.

In fact, the prayer was written in France in 1913 at a time of increased international tensions. It did not work. In August of the next year, World War I tore through Europe and around the world.

What does it mean for a Christian to be an instrument of God’s peace? The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer could have remained in the United States during World War II. As a pacifist, he would have been in a position to speak and write against the evils that provoked the war and the evils perpetrated by all sides in its prosecution.

However, Bonhoeffer chose to return to his homeland because he felt that Christian witness requires not that we avoid evil, but that like Christ who took on the sins of the world, we must find some way to be in communion with the sin-marred world. He was eventually executed for being part of a plot to assassinate the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

When I look at Bonhoeffer’s decision for communion in the evil infecting his people and his eventual involvement in a violent plot, I cannot help thinking that too much Christian advocacy for peace can become like the self-righteousness of the Pharisee in the temple. "I thank you, God, that I am not like others — the warmongers, the violent, the military. I take part in all the right demonstrations and sign the proper petitions. I have a picture of Gandhi in my office. Lord, I am an instrument of your peace."

And at the back of the temple, a blood-smeared penitent prays, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, part of your sinful people. Forgive us that we have not yet found a better way to end injustice. Forgive us that we too often look to violence as our first response to evil. Protect me from being overwhelmed by the evil of which I am a part. Lord, make me an instrument of your peace."

I knew a pair of children who used to sing the song, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." Then, one would shout, "No, me!" The other would counter, "No, me!" "I said it first!" And so on.

The answer, of course, is, "All of us!"

Building peace takes all sorts of people engaged in all sorts of activities, some of which may be paradoxically unpeaceful. We need the nonviolent idealists who remind us of our goal. But, in a world not yet the Kingdom, we, sad to say, also need those who are willing to enter the realm of evil in order that even it may work toward good. 

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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