Q. Why do you suppose religions separate people more than it unifies them? (A.M.)
Thanks for bringing this question to light. It is important because many people start with the premise that religion is supposed to bring peace. But, where did that idea come from? It presupposes that human beings are even capable of living together in harmony.
History exposes Man as Fighter
History has shown us again and again that people left in their natural state are not loving, peaceful, harmonious beings. Rather, they are filled with strife, envy, jealousy, hatred and other negative traits. See Galatians 5:19 for a good list of mankind's natural tendencies toward divisiveness and evil. No religion on earth can change this - Instead, men need to be changed from the inside out.
Worldwide Pandemic of Sin
You can probably see where I'm going with this. Mankind is infected with a worldwide pandemic. We call it "sin" and death. Humans are born fighters filled with hate. We need the transformation of Jesus Christ and the aid of the Holy Spirit to help mold us into better persons.
Day of Transformation
But, the total transformation will not come, however, until our bodies, minds, and hearts are changed into bodies like Christ's. Read First Corinthians 15:51-55 to see a description of this future time when Christians will be instantly changed into beings fashioned after Christ.
We will never be peaceful in our natural state. We must be saved from sin and death and transformed into new creatures through Christ's redemptive work.
Many of us have heard this quote from the United Nations:
"They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war" (Isaiah 2:4, NASB).
Verses out of a Hat
This is a perfect example of careless Scripture application. Leave it to unregenerate agnostics, atheists or misinformed Christians to pull this one out of their hats! This verse comes from a section in the book of Isaiah that speaks of God's promise of restoration after the terrible Tribulation Days (judgments) when the Lord will judge men for their evil ways.
Leaving out Crucial Judgment Verse
Indeed, they begin this quote by conveniently leaving out the beginning of verse 4. The first part of this verse states, "And He will judge between the nations, and will render decision for many peoples." Then it goes on to talk about peace after God's judgment - when He will rule nations - not us!
No Peace until God Rules
See Micah 4:3 for a parallel passage. Dr. Ryrie notes, "…this passage describes the glories of the millennial kingdom" (Ryrie 1996, 1430). In Isaiah 2:4 Ryrie states…"God's government will be established over all the kingdoms of this world. Gentiles (nations) and Jews (peoples) will do the will of God. Justice and peace will reign" (p 1051).
In other words, men will not see peace until God judges men and establishes His Kingdom over the nations of the world.
Peace I Bring Unto You?
Jesus Himself did not state that He came the first time to bring "peace," either. He says,
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to 'set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's enemies will be the members of his household.'" (Matthew 10:34-36, NASB).
As stated in the Zondervan Study Bible, "At first glance this saying sounds like a contradiction of Isaiah 9:6 ('Prince of Peace'), Luke 2:14 ('on earth peace among men') and John 14:27 ('Peace I leave with you'). It is true that Christ came to bring peace - peace between the believer and God, and peace among men. Yet, the inevitable result of Christ's coming is conflict - between Christ and the antichrist, between light and darkness, between Christ's children and the devil's children. This conflict can occur even between members of the same family" (Zondervan 2002, 1955).
Families Persecute Christian Relatives
We know this is so because one only needs to read stories of current persecution of Christians in India, China, and countries ruled by Islam to see hatreds and divisiveness in action. Believers are disowned by families, lose their property and belongings, and are often put to death to cruel ways. One can lose his life for just owning a bible! Many have to hide their bibles in holes in the walls and other secretive places.
Ryrie clarifies when he writes, "Christ's mission involves tension, persecution, death. The gospel divides families (cf. Mic 7:6). The world will experience true peace only when the King returns again to rule (Isa 2:4)" (Ryrie Study Bible 1996, 1530).
This is why Christians often say, "Maranatha." It means, "Come quickly, Lord." We know there will be no peace until Christ rules on earth.
Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, NASB. 1996. Chicago: Moody.
Zondervan Study Bible KJV, large print edition. 2002. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.