In a World of War,

Where Can Peace Be Found?

by Gary C. Burger, MDiv

A Short History of War and Peace in the Western World

The history of mankind is the history of wars. Though impossible to calculate accurately, it is estimated that since the beginning of recorded history, around 3,600 BC, the western world has known only about 300 years of peace. That means only eight percent of history has enjoyed peace. The longest period of peace in western civilization was the Pax Romana (Roman Peace), which lasted 200 years. That peace, ironically, was enabled and enforced by Rome's unrivaled military might. This peace did not even cover the whole earth, just the Roman Empire.

Project Ploughshares reports that in 2001 37 countries were involved in armed conflicts inside or outside their borders. Nearly 50 million people abandoned their homes in fear of their lives and livelihoods. More than half were refugees in their own countries.1

In the 1980's someone estimated that in the history of western civilization there had been more than 14,000 wars, large and small, in which more than 3 billion people died. Since 650 BC there were more than 1656 arms races, in which only 16 did not end in war. The remainder ended with the economic collapse of the countries concerned. More than 8,000 treaties of peace, meant to last forever, were broken. They remained in force an average of only two years. These statistics represent a best case scenario of mankind's history of warfare. It does not include the countless wars and tribal conflicts of the many civilizations that are not a part of western history.2 A cynic once said, "Peace is just a time for the world to reload." It has also been said, "the only thing history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing." Perhaps a more accurate statement is, "we keep failing to learn from history." Every time a new conflict begins, we shake our heads in disbelief knowing the incredible price of human, material and environmental destruction people face being at war again. It just doesn't seem to make sense.

War Defies Logic

In 1960, a U.S. military research team studied ways of avoiding another major war. During its research, the team fed a computer all the data on World War I. The computer responded with the assertion that World War I was an impossibility, that it never really happened! Blunders and casualties of such magnitude could only be the stuff of fictional conjecture, not of hard reality.3 Obviously, this logical computer program could not keep us out of Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Somolia and now a new war on terrorism. Do you think a modern day computer programmed by the best programmers, historians, politicians and military strategists could come up with a way to prevent the next war? Probably not, because war defies logic. Sure sociologists and psychologists can tell us many of the reasons but when we see the results of war we view war as unreasonable and illogical. Yet it is still inevitable. Why? What is it in mankind that causes us to make war?

Why We Make War

During the campaign in Poland, Napoleon took up his quarters in a country house where some officers of a captured Russian company were brought before him. Their attitude toward their conqueror was anything but humble. One of them took the opportunity to tell him that Russians were superior to the French in every way. He said, "We Russians, for instance, fight for honor; but you French fight only for gain." "You are quite right," replied Napoleon. "Each fights for that which he does not possess."4 Apart from Napoleon's quick wit, this reveals the some of the chief reasons we make war: greed and pride.

There is at least another reason we war. A boy once asked, "Dad, how do wars begin?" "Well, take the First World War," said his father. "That got started when Germany invaded Belgium." Immediately his wife interrupted him. "Tell the boy the truth. It began because somebody was murdered." The husband drew himself up with an air of superiority and snapped back, "Are you answering the question or am I?" Turning her back upon him in a huff, the wife walked out of the room and slammed the door as hard as she could. When the dishes stopped rattling in the cupboard, an uneasy silence followed, broken at length by the son, "Daddy, you don't have to tell me how wars begin; I know now!"5 Wars often start from silly, petty arguments.

We also make war because of our individual and nationalistic egos. James, the half brother of Jesus Christ wrote in the Bible, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want." (James 4:1,2)

Why do we make war? Because there is a fundamental drive within human nature that, when unchecked, moves us to go so far as to kill another person to get what we want.

Can Lasting Political Peace Be Achieved?

Most people agree there must be ways to avoid war. Some say more education is the answer. They say that if everyone had the best education possible then war, racism and all other social problems would give way to a worldwide utopian peace. So is more and better education the solution? Education is important but the weakness of this solution is clear when we remember the people making the decisions to go to war are usually the most highly educated people in a country. In other words, they should know better, yet they fight anyway. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Eichmann, Joseph Goebbels, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Sadam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic and many other recent tyrants were educated. As knowledge and education have increased over the years, the number of wars and their severity has not decreased.

Historically, men and nations attempt to secure peace through another avenue--political alliances. Can any political alliance provide lasting peace? In an address to the United States Senate in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson said, "The League of Nations is the only hope of mankind." World War I was supposed to have been "The war to end all wars". It was a futile and tragic hope however. World War II began only 20 years later. Again thousands of treaties have been made and broken. However strong the intentions of keeping them, however strong the deterrents to breaking them, it is futile to put all our hope in political alliances. Can any nation or alliance bring about and sustain permanent peace? History answers with a resounding, "No!"

If national alliances and treaties cannot secure lasting peace can we find a man or woman--a leader, to do it?

Can Any Man Bring Lasting Peace?

On January 30, 1973, Patrice Tamao of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, allowed himself to be nailed to a cross as a sacrifice for world peace and understanding among men. As thousands watched on television, six-inch stainless steel nails were driven through his hands and feet. Tamao planned to remain on the cross for 48 hours, but after only 20 hours he had to cut short his voluntary crucifixion because of an infection in his right foot. The newspaper headline read, "Crucifixion-for-peace Falls Short." Tamao could not give peace to the world.6

The leaders of the world's greatest religions throughout history have not provided peace either. In fact, many wars are waged for religious reasons. Many people claim they can secure peace for a world at war. We even give rewards to those making the greatest contributions toward peace. The inventor of dynamite was a man named Alfred Nobel. He invented dynamite to be used for peaceful purposes like making tunnels and mining. However, over the years, he suffered from a feeling of guilt at having created a substance that was used in war to cause so much death and injury; so he established and endowed the Nobel Peace Prize to reward the most effective work in promoting international peace.7

Amid all the claims and attempts, there is only one man who has won permanent peace. That man was Jesus Christ. You might reply, "Well, Jesus Christ died 2,000 years ago and plenty of wars have occurred since then. Roman newspapers would have written the same thing about His death, 'Crucifixion-for-peace Falls Short.'"

Is there an apparent failure here? Let's investigate to see what really happened?

According to the opening pages of the Bible, mankind was created by God in a perfect relationship with Himself. Though this relationship with God was perfect, Satan (a real being) successfully tempted mankind into joining him in his rebellion against God. This rebellion is a spiritual war. It is invisible to the human senses. Mankind's earthly wars are a tangible expression of this greater unseen drama.

Donald Grey Barnhouse, in his classic work, The Invisible War, explains:

War has been declared. The great, governing cherub (Satan) had become the malignant enemy. Although the Lord had the power to destroy Satan with a breath, He did not do so. It was as though the edict had been proclaimed in heaven: We shall give this rebellion a thorough trial. We shall permit it to run its full course. And the wreck and the ruin which shall result will demonstrate to the universe that there is no life, no joy, no peace apart from a complete dependence upon the Most High God, Possessor of heaven and earth.8

You see, mankind is not only at war with itself. Mankind, including every man, woman and child, regardless of skin color or geopolitical borders is in an individual war with God. The conflicts we have with other individuals and nations are both an expression of and caused by this war with God. The grim reality is that no matter how hard we try, there will be no permanent peace among individuals or nations until our personal war with God is ended.

The crime for which every person is guilty before God is treason. The penalty for this disloyalty to God and his kingdom is death. The Bible makes this clear, "The wages (penalty) of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) Now, death is more than just the cessation of biological life. Man's spiritual part is involved as well. Spiritual death is eternal separation from God. A ruler does not allow rebels in his presence until they stop rebelling. They must turn from their rebellion and commit themselves to his loyal service. The obvious question is, how can we make peace with God?

Left to ourselves, we must pay for our treasonous acts (sins) toward God by our own death. But God sent His Son, the ultimate ambassador of peace, to die in our place to pay the penalty for our sins, for us. If we stop our rebellion and accept this payment as a substitute, we will make peace with God. Our crimes and our rebellious attitude will no longer separate us from Him.

The Bible affirms, "So now, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith in His promises, we can have real peace with Him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us" (Romans 5:1, Living Bible).

Jesus Christ's crucifixion did not fall short in any way. He was not a mere man as was Patrice Tamao in the story above. Patrice could not die for the sins of mankind to secure peace with God. He had His own sins against God for which he had to pay. The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ was "tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin" (Hebrews 5:15b). Jesus was God Himself giving every man and woman the opportunity to make peace with Him. Only the sinless Jesus could pay for the sins of the people of the world. However, Jesus did not just die. Jesus conquered death. He literally came back to life to prove it.

Will the world ever enjoy permanent peace? Yes. In Isaiah 2:4, the Bible promises Jesus will return one day to establish His reign of permanent peace on earth. Knowing Jesus will return to make everything right gives us hope for the future. Until Jesus Christ establishes His eternal peace we must use education to learn from history. We must do our best to secure political alliances between nations. However, lasting political peace is only possible when Jesus is the unchallenged ruler of our lives and of the world.

Only Jesus Christ Can Give Personal Peace

In time of war, personal peace is difficult to find as people we love face the dangers home and abroad. Even in times of political peace, personal peace is still elusive. There are other worries such as family problems, pressures of school, work and peers, and uncertainty about future success in life.

Lasting personal peace can only be provided by Jesus Himself. After explaining to His disciples that He would always be present in Spirit He said, "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

The same Jesus who will one day return in power and glory to finally establish a universal and eternal peace wants to begin now to establish a permanent peace in your life. Here is His promise for today, tomorrow, the next day and the forever: "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give (peace) to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27). This doesn't mean that we will be immune to problems and stress. It means that when we look at situations from His point of view we realize we don't have to worry, just do what is right.

Would you like this kind of personal peace? The first step is to make peace with God. End your personal war with Him. Accept His forgiveness through Jesus' substitutionary death for you. Ask Him to be the ruler of your life. Ask God to fill your life with His permanent peace.


1Project Ploughshares at (Go through Site Map to find information on Armed Conflicts.)

See also: Kidron, Michael and Segal, Ronald. The State of the World Atlas, 1995, Penguin Books, London.

3 - 7Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, 1979, Assurance Publishers, PO Box 753, Rockville, MD 20851.

8Barnhouse, Donald Grey. The Invisible War, 1965, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.

Unless otherwise referenced all scripture quotations are from The New International Version, 1984, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.

About the author

Gary Burger served on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ from 1979 to 1996 on various college campuses around the U.S. He earned a Masters of Divinity degree from The International School of Theology and a Masters in Business Administration from California State University. In 1996 he started New Media Ministries to help high school and college students develop sound reasons for faith in Jesus Christ with a website of resources at

You are welcome to copy and distribute as many copies of this article as you would like. However, in order to change anything including wording and format you must secure written permission from the author. Please contact him at:


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