Been thinking a lot about peace lately.
I suppose you can guess why.
In the runup to tomorrow’s midterm elections—the most important election of our lifetime!—there’s not much evidence of peace. Both sides are scared of the consequences of losing the election, and they want you to be scared too—provided, of course, you’ll vote for their side. When all your friends have an interest in making you afraid, peace can be a little hard to come by.
But we all want it—or say we do.
The Jews greet each other with the simple word peace—“shalom.” So do the Arabic-speaking peoples—“salaam alaikum.” And the latter greeting makes explicit what is only implicit in the Hebrew custom—why they say the word at all.
It’s a wish. The greeter is saying he wants you to be at peace, and that his intentions toward you are peaceful: “peace to you.” And if you are familiar with the culture, you respond reflexively: “wa alaikum salaam” (“and to you, peace”). I hear that greeting, and offer it, frequently in both West and East Africa, where there’s considerable Muslim and thus Arabic influence.
Peace. We all want it.
During times of war, our desires are pretty simple and straightforward—we just want the fighting and killing to stop. We want to go home. We want to be with our families. We want to not be afraid all the time. We want a peace treaty. The Old Testament often uses the word shalom this way.
But once the fighting has stopped, we find that that’s not all we wanted. We want peace at home, too. We want the neighborhood to be safe. We want our kids to be able to play outside until the street lights come on. We want to have block parties. We want to jog along the streets and wave at our neighbors. We want the mailman not to get bitten by the neighbor’s junkyard dog.
And the circle of concern gets narrower. We want peace inside the house as well as out in the neighborhood. We want to love and enjoy the company of our spouse. We want our children to love and respect us, and love to be at home with us, and make us proud. We want quiet nights by the fireplace with hot chocolate and popcorn. We want to sing silly songs in the car on the way to Wally World. We want family.
And most of all, we want peace inside ourselves. We want to be free from worry, and hate, and fear. We want to feel like a walk in the woods, a campfire, and a night in the forest all the time.
We want peace.
The direction of our travel here has been from the outside in. We achieve peace in wartime, then in the neighborhood, then at home, and finally within ourselves.
Many of us think that’s how peace comes to us.
But it doesn’t.
It travels from the inside out.
It has to start with peace in your soul, in your spirit.
Because if your heart isn’t fundamentally at peace, you’ll bring strife and discord to your home. And your home will bring strife to your neighbors. And a country at war with itself will destabilize its national neighbors—and in this global neighborhood, all the rest of the world as well.
What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not that your passions are at war within you? (James 4.1).
The biblical word shalom speaks of a lot of kinds of peace—of absence of war (1K 4.25) or, less formally, of strife (Gen 26.29); of healthy, happy, harmonious relationships; of prosperity; of completeness or fullness; of fulfillment.
Of being in the place you were meant to be, one that matches you perfectly.
How does that happen?
In the Bible, it comes from being righteous (when you behave yourself and live in a way society views as orderly, your life tends to be a lot less complicated, doesn’t it? [Isa 32.17]); it comes from being in God’s presence and especially from being in a relationship with him (Gen 15.15; Ps 85.8; Isa 54.10). In short, it comes from God:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
And, importantly, shalom doesn’t come from our circumstances; it’s independent of them (Isa 54.10). It’s not going to come from winning the election—I suspect that no matter who wins, the rage is only going to deepen. But when the world is shaking—whether the whole world, or just your world—the peace is still there, because God is still there.
Do you have peace?
If you’re a believer, you should. And in a day when the world is teetering, that’s what you should be communicating to those who have no peace.
You’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
A really good and attractive sore thumb.
Salaam alaikum, my friend.