The False Peace of the Atomic Age

Seventy five years ago today, a B-29 Superfortress nicknamed the “Enola Gay” circled the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It’s American crew dropped just one piece of ordinance that day: the first combat-deployed atomic bomb. Beneath them on the streets of the city, 240,000 Japanese died within the hour.

One single bomb extinguished human life with an ease never before seen in human history. The aftershock brought the global community into a pseudo-peace, a half-century of cold war. This would be a peace kept by fear and terror. Is this the peace Jesus speaks of? Is this the peace he gives?

Jesus says, “My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.” (John 14.27) Historians will continue to debate the ethical variables and strategic complexities of the terrible decision handed to President Truman in 1945. None of it easy. Yet, Christians must not resign ourselves to temporary peace.

As followers of Jesus, we must cling to this truth: the peace of Jesus is altogether different than the peace of this world. This vision of peace may stumble in the square of world politics, with refrains of “idealism” or “wishful thinking” or “come on, live in the real world’. And yet, Christian hope holds that Jesus’ kingdom is breaking into the real world. Jesus’ peace is not fanciful, but is known and bound up in hearts full of faith.

3 Reflections for the Atomic Age

75 years into the atomic age, Christians must continue to lament violence that harms and destroys human beings.

Apart from the Spirit of God and his presence, image bearers rule and reign in ways which increase violence, rather than quell it. We answer to King Jesus. His rule and his reign follow a different agenda. Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “The power that the world acknowledges comes out of the mouth of a gun; the power that the person of faith respects comes from the mouth of Christ.” The temporary justice enforced by the power granted to the state will one day give way to the eternal justice and righteousness of Jesus.

Christians must prophetically recognize & topple idols that count violence and destruction as acts of faithfulness & worship.

Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama understood Japan’s own pre-war failure to reject what he deemed “state Shintoism”. He warned against the blending of religion and politics, a toxic mixture. Japan drank this cup, and embraced an idealogical fanaticism that fed the Japanese war machine. In this quasi-religion, violence and destruction served the will of the divine Emperor. He writes this in Sword and Religions: “The terrible truth the Japanese people learned in 1945 is “all who take the sword will perish by the sword”. These words of Jesus are true for all.

The false peace of the atomic age leads us to wait expectantly for Jesus’ final word and judgment. The true light of Jesus’ justice and righteousness will cut through the fog of war, and with it all injustice and ethical ambiguities will evaporate.

The peace of this world is not final. The final word of Jesus will unleash a peace the likes of which are only experienced in fragments by the gathered Church today. The fullness of this peace is worth holding out for. It’s worth experiencing in limited doses by the power of the Spirit in the fellowship of a Church. Until then, we should lament the pervasive violence which marks our rule and reign. We should be quick in our repentance from ideologies and idols which celebrate and accept violence and destruction as worship. And we can rest in the final sweeping victory of Jesus’ kingdom in and above all things.

Epilogue: Ethical Considerations & Historical Complexities

Ethicists yesterday, today, and tomorrow continue to debate President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb.* When we consider the complexities of the Pacific War, we’re faced with a history that describes the Pacific war like a hellish descent into a brutality and barbarism. It’s not as simple as saying: “The Japanese deserved it” on the one hand, or “The Americans shouldn’t have dropped the bomb” on the other. The fact this tension exists is not proof of moral relativism, but rather of the ever increasing complexities due to the pervasive nature of sin in the human heart.

*In 1946, the Atlantic published an op-ed “If The Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used.” and then published President Truman’s simple response: “Your statement…is a fair analysis of the situation except that the final decision had to be made by the President…”

Published by Jared Stacy

Jared is an American Pastor, writer, and PhD Candidate in Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

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