In his January 12, 2016, State of the Union speech, President Obama summed up with this affirmation:
“It won’t be easy. Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen — inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves . . as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.”
This phrase has become one of the more familiar quotes of Dr. King, excerpted from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, December 19, 1964. In its original context, it’s clear that Dr. King believed his nonviolent approach to social change was only possible in the context of the Bible’s teaching about the Kingdom of God:
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow….I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altar of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. ‘And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.'”
President Obama in AD 2016, Dr. King in AD 1964 and the Prophet Isaiah 750 BC (Isaiah 11:6) all shared the same vision: that God will have the last word. After all the wars, empires, rebellions, bloodshed, explosions, terrorists and bellicose politicians, God will be secure on his eternal throne and his entire creation will be at peace.
Isaiah’s prophecy ends with the words “and a little child shall lead them.” A little child leads without macho strength or belligerence, without guns, threats or armies. A little child leads nonviolently, with unarmed truth and unconditional love. That’s the way Jesus came into the world.
While we’re waiting for God’s Kingdom to come in its fulness, we can huddle together, people committed to unarmed truth and unconditional love, as 18th century poet Matthew Arnold encouraged us to in his poem “Dover Beach”:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.