We called it the “war to end all wars.” Until a bigger one came.
We called it “Armistice Day” to celebrate the end of killing each other. Until more wars changed our focus from peace to fighting.
At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month just over a century ago, the guns in Europe stopped shouting deadly hatred. The not-so-great “Great War” ended. Only later madness would bring the moniker “World War I.”
And while there’s little inspiration to find in that war that left about 20 million people dead, its end brought a moment of prophetic hope. A message we still need today.
“It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another,” novelist Kurt Vonnegut wrote. “I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.”
In the silence, God spoke.
But did we listen? Did we remember?
Years of gunfire suddenly fading away into silence must have been eerie. A reverse of angelic hosts breaking into a silent night, but perhaps just as startling. And divine.
It’s like when the prophet Elijah stands on the mountain awaiting the presence of God to pass by. A powerful wind tears through, shattering rocks. But God was not in the wind. A rumbling earthquake rolls in, shaking the land. But God was not in the earthquake. A hot fire shoots by, filling the air with smoke. But God was not in the fire.
Then silence. A whisper in the gentle breeze.
As Vonnegut noted, God was not in the powerful blasts of war and its propaganda, the earthshaking tanks and bombs, nor the fire and smoke of guns and cannons. God was in the silence. The peace.
But like the ancient Hebrew people, we didn’t listen to the voice of God. We fell right back into our generational cycles of disobedience and war.
Some have suggested that God’s small voice to Elijah didn’t come after the violent wind, noisy earthquake, or crackling fire. Rather, it may have been there all along but Elijah just couldn’t hear it over everything else.
What if the voice of God was there in Europe a hundred years ago, gently whispering and waiting for years for people to finally stop shooting and start listening? What if that voice is here today, gently calling us to the work of peace but we don’t always hear it over the drumbeats of war and our burning hatred for those “other” people?
On a day like today, we honor those who went before us. We lament the lives lost and taken in violent wars. We cherish the freedoms we have today. We work to heal those wounded by battles — physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
But we must also pray and work for peace. Those who follow the Prince of Peace cannot abdicate this responsibility.
We must remember that love always hopes, always perseveres — even if we struggle to hear its gentle whispering over the chaos and divisions of our world. Our call as Christians is to help people hear the voice of God, to help people live in the blessed silence without the firing of the weapons of deaths.
Because as that modern prophet Bob Dylan put it, “If God’s on our side, he’ll stop the next war.”