An Adagio for Peace

An Adagio for Peace

[Originally published March 2022]


Vedran Smailovich was the foremost cellist for the Sarajevo Opera when the siege of Sarajevo began in 1992. Bosnian Serb forces shelled the capital city and snipers targeted citizens. The siege lasted nearly four years. On May 27, 1992, an artillery shell exploded in front of a bakery where people were lined up to buy bread. Twenty-two innocent citizens were killed, and more than 100 others were severely injured. The next day, Vedran dressed in his formal attire for a classical concert and carried his cello and a chair into that destroyed courtyard. He played Tomaso Albinoni’s “Adagio in G Minor” as a memorial to the massacre. He repeated this ten-to-fifteen-minute performance every day for 22 days as a remembrance, one day for each of those who had been killed.

That conflict lasted for several years, yet what Smailovich did spread throughout the world. His example leads me to plead, even as bombs are being dropped in the Ukraine, “Give peace a chance!” Sometimes, like an adagio, peace will come slowly and after much groaning (Romans 8:26, 31-39). It must begin within the human heart, then spread throughout our communities and world. This current war holds global implications, and we should consider its moral impact.
The Changing Nature of Contemporary War
Twenty-first century warfare comprises “multi-domain operations, asymmetry, and a hybrid approach.” [1] Hybrid warfare, much like the current conflict in the Ukraine, focuses not only on military staff as targets for “war-fighting” but also includes civilians. This strategy creates political instability via conventional assaulting methods, instigates riots, spreads disinformation, influences through social media, and seeks to affect electoral outcomes. [2]
War Contributes to Widespread Human, Economic, and Social Disruption
The human costs of war. War represents one of the costliest moral crises of every age. The damages in human lives lost, maimed, and uprooted are astronomical. Tragically, the number of civilian deaths is generally equal to the number of deaths sustained by military personnel. [3] Causes of death in war include combat, disease, famine, massacres, suicide, and genocide.

The economic costs of war. Suffice it to say that war is deeply embedded in the world’s economic systems. The United States federal government alone has expended $8 trillion on post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. This does not include the billions of dollars that our government has committed to the conflict in the Ukraine in the last three weeks. We spent $778 billion on military in 2020, which constituted 39% of total military spending worldwide. By comparison, China spent $252 billion, and Russia expended $61.7 billion. Total global military expenditures totaled $1.98 trillion dollars in that year. [4] We should keep in mind that these numbers do not reflect the exorbitant costs required to rebuild infrastructure following a war.

The future economic impact on our children and grandchildren. “The current wars have been paid for almost entirely by borrowing. This borrowing has raised the US budget deficit, increased the national debt, and had other macroeconomic effects, such as raising consumer interest rates. Unless the US immediately repays the money borrowed for war, there will also be future interest payments. We may estimate that future interest payments could total more than $6.5 trillion by the 2050s.” [5]

Social costs related to war. The destructive aftermath of war impacts communities and families and disrupts the social and economic development of nations. The effects include “long-term physical and psychological harm to children and adults, as well as reduction in material and human capital.” War creates widespread poverty, leads to malnutrition and disability, and contributes to psycho-social illness in the population. [6] Needless to say, deep ethical concerns relate to war.
Deep Ethical Implications of War
Mass human destruction and individual atrocities in war raise serious sanctity of life concerns. War destroys lives made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28), often violates God’s Law against killing (Exodus 20:13), and disrupts relationships with God and fellow man.

Just war theory (justice) aims to limit atrocities (e.g., Geneva conventions on prisoner treatment and International Court of Justice for war crimes, esp. “crimes against humanity”); however, cruelty and the threat of nuclear obliteration (e.g. Hiroshima & Nagasaki) raise concerns about its current effectiveness.

Governments, businesses, and private citizens do well to acknowledge their responsibilities to secure peace and peaceful coexistence (esp. for those who have been uprooted and displaced by wars) and to sustain basic human rights (e.g. life, health, and liberty).
Traditional Christian Peace Solutions to War
Religionists and secularists have historically sought peaceful alternatives to war in two categories—pacifism and just war. Pacifism claims that participation in war is never justifiable and contains two basic facets. First, non-violence is an obligatory rule (e.g., never make war or even use violence when defending personal attack). Secondly, pacifistic non-participation precludes participating in war of any kind (e.g., inclusive of supporting a war effort or national defense in peacetime).
Just war theory (orig. 4th century) seeks to bring a war under the control of justice. Some hold that war is justifiable only when undertaken in self-defense (e.g., America’s WWII attack on Japan in response to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor), while others would justify preventative strikes to ward off an imminent attack (e.g., Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War).

A third paradigm, just peacemaking, has gained momentum in the last several decades. Just peacemaking theory designs an ethic of prevention and initiatives that governments are obliged to take both to prevent war and to make peace. Regardless of the view, war remains morally problematic for humankind and cries out for careful ethical responses.
It is well known in both secular and religious experience that the root of human moral discord is depravity (Genesis 4:1-12; Romans 1:28-31; cf. Galatians 5:19-21, fruits of discord). Christian holistic peace and peacemaking intersects ethics at this point of human flourishing. The tendency to focus primarily on negative aspects of peace (cessation from war; protecting persons and property from interference and harm), however, hinders a well-developed application of the term.

Our inner worlds are at war, making our personal lives scenes of great conflict (Romans 1:28-31; Ephesians 2:3) leading to dissension, quarreling (cf. James 4:1-2), and abusiveness that affect adversely the sanctity and dignity of life made in God’s image (James 3:6-9; cf. Ephesians 2:11-22; Christ removes hostility; creates peace). An ethic of holistic peace and peacemaking necessitates a worldview that addresses all levels of achieving peace.
A Christian Way Forward
First, while it is unlikely that war will cease in our fallen world, God has made perfect provision for peace—a lasting Peace (His Son) that differs from that of the world (Luke 14:32, opposite of war; John 16:33). God’s word provides ample evidence of such a peace.

In the Old Testament, peace (shalom) carries the notion of blessing and is closely associated with God’s presence and salvation. It is the gift of God and the person who knows this peace is guarded, treated graciously, and fulfilled by God (Numbers 6:24-26; cf. Greek eirene; Genesis 28:21; Judges 18:6; Psalm 4:8; John 14:27; cf. Matthew 5:48). God establishes His covenant of peace and oversees it (Isaiah 54:10; 60:17-18, “violence shall no more be heard in your land). Peace also has a social dimension and is often associated with righteousness, and with law and judgment (Zechariah 8:16), and even with public officials, rulers, and overseers (Isaiah 48:18; Psalm 85:10; Isaiah 60:17).

In the New Testament, Christ is Peace, and He is the mediator of reconciliation (cf. Isaiah 9:1-7, Messiah is Prince of Peace; Zechariah 9:9-10; John 12:12-18; Ephesians 2:14-17, Savior and peacemaker; Isaiah 27:5; Romans 5:1; Colossians 1:20, “making peace by the blood of the cross; Luke 2:14).

Secondly, Christ’s disciples pass peace on to others (Luke 10:5ff.; Matthew 10:13). This peace is received and sustained in communion with Christ, and it renews human relationships (Philippians 4:7; 1 Peter 5:14; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Mark 9:50, Romans 12:18, “be at peace with one another”). The church is edified in peace (Romans 14:17, 19; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Philippians 4:9, opposite of disorder). Peace, as far as is possible, is to be pursued not only in the church, but with all humankind (Isaiah 52:7; Matthew 5:9, “making peace”; Ephesians 4:3; 1 Peter 3:11).

Finally, God causes peace to rule in the hearts of men and women that manifests itself as the fruit of the Spirit (Colossians 3:15; Galatians 5:22). Such all-enveloping peace heals all wounds caused by war, dissension, and inner turmoil.


As we recall the cellist of Sarajevo, we may choose to live our lives as an adagio for peace. A musical adagio is played at a slow tempo and is used chiefly as a direction in music. We may not be able to stop the rapid escalation of war and destruction, but we may work to spread the peace of Christ intentionally. We may consistently sing the song of Christ’s peace, even while we must live amid the cacophony of war and destruction.

Larry C. Ashlock
1. “Estimating the Numbers of Casualties in Modern Armed Conflicts—A Systematic Review,” Frontiers in Public Health.
2. Ibid.
3. Eckhardt, “Civilian Deaths in Wartime,” Bulletin of Peace Proposals, Vol. 20(1): 89-98 (1989).
4. See Costs of War. See also, “Countries with the highest military spending worldwide in 2020,” Statista.
5. See “Costs of War,” Economic Costs.
6. “Mental health consequences of war.”