As the UN recently turned 75, the challenges facing humanity led to somewhat subdued celebrations. What are the realistic probabilities of world peace?
Born from the smoldering ruins of World War II in hopes of ensuring future international peace, the United Nations just spent the last year marking a milestone anniversary.
Seventy-five years earlier, as delegates from 50 countries met in San Francisco aspiring to form the UN, President Harry Truman soberly outlined for them what was at stake: “If we do not want to die together in war, we must learn to live together in peace.”
One of the key players in the UN’s creation, Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, also warned, “The United Nations is our one great hope for a peaceful and free world.”
In hundreds of speeches and articles over the past months, pundits have assessed the UN’s performance these 75 years. For the most part, even the key figures leading the UN have been restrained in their praise, noting its significant accomplishments but tempering any talk of a bright future with cautions that world peace is being held together only by very fragile threads.
What lies ahead? Will we—you and I, our children and grandchildren—have a future of peace? Do we humans have it within ourselves to create and maintain peace?
Or is it time to take a more pragmatic view of human nature and start looking for a different source of peace?
“It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh”
On Sept. 2, 1945—immediately after Japan’s surrender ending World War II and only seven weeks before the UN officially came into existence—General Douglas MacArthur spoke to the world in a radio address. Even in the glow of victory, he pointed to the larger context and lessons of history:
“Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start, workable methods were found insofar as individual citizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, Leagues of Nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war.
“The utter destructiveness of war now blots out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we do not now devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door.”
Then MacArthur homed in on the core challenge we face:
“The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural developments of the past 2,000 years.
“It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.”
MacArthur repeated this profound analysis to the U.S. Congress in his farewell address in 1951. But, as is the case with most words of wisdom, people tend to applaud them at the time then go right back to living as always. Little change ensues.
What are the odds we will find peace?
A couple thousand years before MacArthur, the Bible records the apostle Paul expressing the same principle, only in slightly different words: “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). “Carnally” literally means of the flesh, or, by implication, humanly.
Paul reduced the human condition to the simplest explanation possible:
- We can think and be like God and have peace.
- Or we can think and be like man and never find it.
We crave peace, but one of the amazing lessons of biblical history is the speed with which humans can derail the peace process.
Adam and Eve quickly lost their way with God. Within only one generation, their son Cain, in a fit of jealousy, “rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” Whatever he used—a rock, a limb, his fists—Cain ignited humanity’s most dreadful plague. His wickedness stemmed from an emotional outburst, but those who followed quickly began studiously perfecting the art of war, devising the most efficient, destructive means possible.
We crave peace, but one of the amazing lessons of biblical history is the speed with which humans can derail the peace process.Have we—speaking of the whole of humanity—learned nothing since? What do we see in society today? Every single day we see and hear of continual strife, conflict, contention, jealousy, anger, lust, envy, division, hatred, fighting, war, etc. Can one conclude anything but that we are acting like mere men? Isn’t the basic problem that we are not anywhere near acting like God?
What are the odds, therefore, of humanity ever finding peace?
“The way of peace they have not known”
The words of the ancient prophet Isaiah ring true today: “The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace” (Isaiah 59:8).
The “way of peace” is a spiritual way. As Jesus said to His disciples in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (emphasis added).
What kinds of peace does the world give? Typically, it comes through means such as military conquests, cease-fires, negotiations and compromises, bargaining, shows of force, or even the oxymoronic “peacekeeping forces” of today’s UN. But those means are often tenuous, and certainly are not generated by “the improvement of human character” MacArthur described that will ensure permanent peace.
World leaders are keenly aware of that. On Sept. 21, 2020, at the official commemoration of the 75th anniversary, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated, “Today, we have a surplus of multilateral challenges and a deficit of multilateral solutions.”
His assessment of what this portends was solemn: “Climate calamity looms. Biodiversity is collapsing. Poverty is again rising. Hatred is spreading. Geopolitical tensions are escalating. Nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert.”
God has also assessed what this portends.
While many world leaders may be well-intentioned in their desires and efforts to work toward peace, they can never restrain others who have designs set on evil intentions. God has already foretold that preceding Christ’s return an illusion of peace will exist, creating a false sense of security. But, as 1 Thessalonians 5:3 forecasts, “For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.”
The Bible also prophesies about what are commonly called the end-time four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The second one, “fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword” (Revelation 6:4).
The ensuing conflicts engulfing the world will mushroom, Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24:22, so that “unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”
“In Me you may have peace”
At Christ’s return we will finally be put on the path to peace!
Nations will be united, but it won’t be through the United Nations. It will come because of the “Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Please download our free booklet How to Understand Prophecy for full details of how God will bring this about.
Here is the simple truth: only God can bring us peace. “LORD, You will establish peace for us,” Isaiah wrote (26:12). Humanity will begin to learn how God’s way of life works, how to become spiritually minded and, as we do, “the work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever” (32:17).
But the promise Jesus gave to His disciples just before He died holds true today for those who will turn to God: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Yes, living in this world you will see tribulation, because that is the only way the world knows. And, no, you cannot change the direction of a world bent on hostility to God and one another. But you can have peace now—peace with God, peace of mind, peace with others—if you are ready and willing to turn from the world’s ways, and to learn the ways of God.
If you’d like to learn more about how to truly be spiritually minded, a great place to start is with our booklet Change Your Life. And check out other helpful material available, all free of charge, at our online Learning Center.