#14. Peace Through Strength, or The Other Way Around?

For political leaders, it is common – and has been for many, many years – to use the idea of “peace through strength” to galvanize the populace behind the idea that a strong military/assertive foreign policy is actually the most effective way to achieve peace. From Ronald Reagan to George Washington to Roman Emperor Hadrian, this concept has been invoked many times over the years. As you probably know, hearherepeace does not generally pursue political topics because we want to look for unity in the world and often politics result in some kind of divisiveness. I am in no way belittling the validity or importance of political action. But we are just doing different work here. So, I will not explore this concept very much more on a national level. 

But I would like to talk about this on an individual level. And I want to explore turning this concept on its head and actually consider the reverse idea: strength comes from peace. I stumbled on to this idea last week when studying a passage (actually the last line) in Psalm 29: “God will give strength to His nation; God will bless His nation with peace.” In the last words of the last book of the Mishnah there is a comment on this very verse that says that when God wanted to bless, “He could find no vessel other than peace” to contain that blessing. This makes it seem to me that the main element is the peace. The strength is just the byproduct of that blessing. 

But what is meant here by “peace”? Most definitions highlight the idea of peace being the absence of conflict or disturbance. But the Hebrew word used here for peace, Shalom, means far more than the absence of something. It is a positive presence that includes a sense of completeness and wholeness and harmony. So it’s actually an inner state that’s being described by Shalom, one that carries with it great blessing, perhaps the greatest of blessings. 

There’s also a practical aspect to this. If you believe that your peace lies in your strength, you will be quite keen on building fortresses around you to protect your interests. But the larger the structures you build, the more maintenance they require because, the larger they are, the greater area of interface with the world – and the world will always be eroding them. And since the fortresses never seem to be big enough to fully protect you (because they are not really capable of doing so), you will want to keep building. None of this sounds like a recipe for peace, even in the common sense of the word. In other words, strength of this sort does not bring peace. The flip side of this is that, if one has inner peace, one can more readily focus all of one’s energy and concentration on the matter at hand. This will effectively increase the deliverable strength. 

I believe that Eckhart Tolle was pointing to the same idea when, in The Power of Now, he wrote: 

            “The ego believes that in your resistance lies your strength, whereas in truth resistance cuts you off from Being, the only place of true power. Resistance is weakness and fear masquerading as strength. What the ego sees as weakness is your Being in its purity, innocence, and power...” 

All of us want to be strong. All of us want to know peace in our lives. But as it turns out, these things may only come in a certain order. One might plausibly argue that what holds for individuals doesn’t necessarily hold for nations. That may be true, but it is interesting to note that the verse from Psalm 29 does speak specifically of a nation. I'll leave that for others to decipher. My only observation here is that a perhaps a nation can reach the strength that comes from unity not only from fear of a perceived common threat, but also from the embracing of shared ideals and beliefs.

I will close with another quote from the Hebrew prayers: "Hope to God, strengthen yourself and He will give your heart courage, and hope to God." What I hear in that is a reminder that our strength and courage come from our connection to our Godliness. The trick is to remember this after we have gained the strength, to remember that the source of that strength is that connection. Hence the repetition of the imperative to hope to God. 

My hope is that your connection is always strong, and peaceful.

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