Last year around Christmas, Mark and I braved a local shopping area for some gifts on our list. We braced ourselves for crowds and lines, loud songs playing over store speakers, irritable drivers fighting to get the last parking spot. When we walked through our door an hour later, I took a deep breath and thought, “Peace at last.”
In our culture, we tend to think of peace as the absence of what troubles us. The blaring music gets turned off. The crowd thins out. The pace of our life slows down. But when Mark and I went to church that night our wise pastor, Mark Schatzman, talked about what God really means when He says He will give us peace.
The biblical word for peace is shalom, and while it’s difficult to translate into our language, it essentially means wholeness and well-being. Theologian Tim Keller says, “Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being — physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows from all of one’s relationships being put right — with God, within oneself, and with others.”
What strikes me most when I read this is how often I settle for less than shalom. I’m content with a shallow, surface-level peace. If I’m gut-honest, I even feel a bit nervous about the idea of shalom. I’m a woman who knows how to work hard and fight harder. I’m used to my faith feeling like a battleground. If life is calm and things are good, I start wondering what will go wrong.
I tend to focus on the part of the gospel that is the cross. Yet sometimes in doing so I forget that part of the purpose of the cross is to bring us shalom. “The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The story of Scripture starts with Adam and Eve in a Garden, a place of complete peace. It ends in heaven, also a place of well-being and wholeness. It seems God is intent on seeing His people thrive, whatever it takes.
This doesn’t mean we’ll experience shalom fully in this world. We are fallen, broken people on a fallen, broken earth. But there’s something comforting in knowing that God is always working to bring us toward shalom. “Great is the Lord, who delights in blessing his servant with peace!” (Psalm 35:27) We will go through hardship and suffering in this life, but peace is the place God has for us to dwell.
If we’re in a season where life is happy, then I think that means we embrace it without fear or apology. We receive the gifts God is bestowing on us. We celebrate and savor every moment. We let the joy we feel now be a small preview of what we’ll one day experience forever.
If we’re in a season where life is hard, then I think that means we let shalom be our hope. As Mark Schatzman said, “God makes peace out of our pieces.” No matter how broken we feel now, we can trust one day we’ll be whole and that all will be well.
Yes, I thought for so long that peace was the absence of something. I know now it’s the presence of Someone — a God who loves us, a God who is for us, a God who is making all things new, including me and you.
God, You don’t just give us peace; You are our peace. Thank You that what You offer is so much deeper and greater than we often know. We ask that You will give us Shalom so that no matter what our circumstances might be we can know that all will be well and we will be whole. Amen.
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