Richard Haas recently spent a week in Northern Ireland completing over 30 engagements with politicians, academics, clergy, the Loyal Orders, business leaders and senior civil servants. His purpose in fulfilling these engagements is to begin a process to find common ground on three outstanding issues not dealt with the 1998 Good Friday agreement – flags and emblems, parades and the legacy of the past.
At the end of that week a local newspaper reported that Richard Haas had a great deal of confidence and optimism regarding the process.
Haas said ‘We come away from this week with a strong sense of possibility about what can be and what should be accomplished’. He also stated ‘Based on [our] experience and the quality of conversations and also our familiarity with the issues I believe there is a real chance to succeed’. In addition to those statements Haas suggested that these issues would be resolved by December 31st 2013.
Now, I’m not a pessimist – although my wife may not agree with me! I am not against any peace process, compromise, or progress in Northern Ireland. Rather, I do hope and pray that there may be some compromise and some movement toward a more peaceful Northern Ireland.
However, I do believe that Richard Haas, in and of himself, has no solution to the problem of Northern Ireland. This man cannot bring peace and unity to Northern Ireland – even though by the sounds of things it won’t be for a lack of trying.
The reason he cannot bring peace and unity to Northern Ireland is there is only one person who can bring peace and unity to Northern Ireland – that is Jesus Christ.
Northern Ireland’s problem may manifest itself in disagreements over flags and emblems, parades and the legacy of the past. There may be sectarian tensions, failed attempts to create a shared future and stalling on the Peace Centre at the Maze prison. But all of this is the outward expression of a much deeper issue – sin.
Sin can only be dealt with by one man, and his name is not Richard Haas.
Jesus Christ, on the cross bore the burden of sin in his perfect body. He bore our sin – the sin of a divided Northern Ireland. This means that by putting our hope in him, by confessing our sin and turning from it, we can find peace and unity. This peace and unity is not just with God though, but with one another.
Ephesians 2:14 – ‘For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility’ (ESV)
We cannot place our hopes, as Christians, in an American diplomat invited to solve our problems. As Christians of Northern Ireland our hope must be in Jesus Christ – the proclamation of the gospel is the only solution to our problems.
Now this does not mean that we abandon politics and neglect the leaders of our country. Nor is this a call for politicians to abandon the avenues open to them to make progress. God has given government as a gift for the good of the people (Romans 13) and those in government must seek to fulfil that role.
But the reality is that no matter how successful politicians are, they cannot solve our deepest problem. Our hope for peace and unity cannot be found in fellow human beings – it must be found in Jesus Christ and in him alone.
He is the one who holds the solution to our problem, he is the one who has dealt with sin and therefore he is the one who can offer peace and unity, not only with himself but with each other too. Therefore, he is the one we should put our hope in.