The Mountain of Peace Isaiah 2:1-5; James 3:13 – 18
Christ of the Andes
High in the Andes mountains is an enormous statue of Christ known as El
Cristo de los Andes (The Christ of the Andes). It sits right on the border
dividing Argentina from Chile, and was built to commemorate the resolution
of boundary questions that had more than once threatened peaceful relationships
between the nations. As long as the statue stands the nations have pledged
there will be peace between Argentina and Chile. And so "Christ of
the Andes" stands 14,000 feet above sea level, with one hand holding
a cross and the other hand held up as though providing a blessing.
Ironically, shortly after the statue was erected as a symbol of mutual
peace, controversy and bitterness broke out, as the statue of Christ faced
Argentina, and so had its back turned towards Chile. The tension was defused
by a Chilean journalist who humorously concluded it was only right that
the statue face this way, for "the people of Argentina need more
watching over than the Chileans."
In the prophecy of Isaiah to his people in exile he uses the image of
the mountain of the Lord. It is a pre-eminent mountain and he paints a
picture of all nations making pilgrimage to it seeking wisdom, godliness,
justice, and international arbitration. Through it the world finds a basis
for peace and prosperity summed up in the powerful image of swords being
beaten into ploughshares. It is an apt focus of our thoughts on this Remembrance
of the OT has conjectured that this image of the mountain of the Lord
may have a Canaanite conception lurking in the background. The pagans
of that time thought there was a mountain abode of the weather god. This
myth is transferred to Zion where mysterious contact is made between the
heavenly and earthly palaces of God. In other words, Isaiah’s poetic
imagery derives from a powerful mythology. So Isaiah seeks to inspire
his exiled and suppressed people with a positive vision. Their God is
not just a god of weather, but is the Lord of the universe. Although they
may be far from Jerusalem, the mountain that gives them hope is Zion where
the same God as their ancestor Jacob lives. One day the world will seek
peace from Zion’s God.
How do we
interpret this prophecy? It would seem to us that an appeal to Zionism
only provokes further conflict, as we know only too well from the troubled
Middle East where the State of Israel in the modern era is a never-ending
problem. We cannot interpret this prophecy literally.
is a metaphorical interpretation. Zion symbolises or is a metaphor for
that justice, peace and prosperity for which all nations strive. It is
not located in a particular place or God but is that ultimate peace for
which we all hope. Perhaps the UN, though imperfect, is a practical example
of that search for the ideal.
is to interpret it in an eschatological way. Zion stands for heaven. We
must believe in and strive for an ideal or ultimate state of affairs where
wisdom, peace and prosperity are achieved for all people and creation,
but that will only be achieved with the end of the world as we know it
and the recreation of the universe. Such peace can never be earthly or
this-worldly, it can only be in the world to come.
A third interpretation may be found in the letter of James. Here he describes
the 7 fruits of heavenly wisdom. This is wisdom “from above”,
from a high place, as a mountain is a high place. True wisdom is evidenced
by how a person lives. James draws a contrast between heavenly and earthly
wisdom. The outward effects of heavenly or genuine wisdom are seen in
the “harvest of righteousness sown in peace for those who make peace”
as he puts it.
James, in contrast to other NT writers does not mention the Holy Spirit.
For him true wisdom from above is equivalent to the Spirit of God. They
are interchangeable terms. Hence a NT interpretation of Isaiah’s
mountain of peace is that true wisdom or the Spirit is that high place
whence come justice, peace and prosperity for all people and creation.
the cause of wars
There is a further problem, though. Many make the easy assumption that
religion is in fact the cause of war in the first place. Therefore the
only thing is to abandon religion. This view is derived from a negative
view of religious faith. Actually, faith can be a force for good as well
as ill. I concede that current wars in the world do seem to involve religious
faith and beliefs. When we look into it there seem to be two types of
struggle which have some basis in religion. The first may be termed a
universal struggle. The claims of Islam or Christianity to be only valid
faith for the world envision that if all turn to the one religion there
will be peace. The second may be termed a local struggle. The claims for
instance of Sri Lankan Buddhist nationalism or of Sikhs looking for Kalistan
– a homeland for the Sikh nation, are that peace can only be secured
when a certain people have a nation exclusively to themselves.
is taken seriously by the vast majority of people on this planet. We cannot
reject it out of hand. But neither can we accept that one, single religion
will be that mountain to which all nations shall stream. Thus all religions
must give up any exclusivist claims. What is accurate in Isaiah’s
prophecy is that universal justice and disarmament is only realistic when
there is agreement on the source of authority – a universal recognition
of God and subjection to his judgement. But that cannot be the particular
version of God belonging to any one religion.
So, not the
rejection of God, but a striving to draw together, to build trust, respect
difference, seek greater freedom and to be resolved to deal with injustice.
There are many different ways of doing this, but we must start with our
own “house of the Lord” – that we seek those fruits
of wisdom described by James, those truly spiritual fruits of wisdom which
are at the same time truly practical, earthly, about seeking right in
this world. The true mountain of peace can only be built out of the very
earth we stand on, with our own hands and hearts.
© Rev Paul Smith