Real peace

Peace. Some of us long for it. There are so many things on our minds and hearts that we awake in the middle of the night, start ruminating, and can’t go back to sleep. What we wouldn’t give for a full undisturbed night, free of care!

Jesus, too, seems concerned that his followers be at peace, even as they wrestle with the news of his imminent departure. “Peace I leave with you,” he tells them. “My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27, CEB). He says this because he knows they are both troubled and afraid, and will shortly have to endure the most trying hours of their lives as their Master is taken from them and crucified.

But Jesus isn’t just saying, “Don’t worry.” To him, the word “peace” means more than just emotional comfort or the absence of care, conflict, or strife. “Peace” means shalom, a Hebrew word with a rich array of meanings — everything ranging from mundane physical well-being (as in, “I’m OK”) to wholeness on a cosmic scale. As theologian Cornelius Plantinga has suggested, shalom is the state in which things are the way the God has meant them to be.

In Jesus’ day, people would have used the word shalom as a greeting or farewell; in theory, they were wishing one another the peace of God. It’s not clear, of course, that people always meant it precisely that way, just as we say “goodbye” or “adios” or “adieu” without actually meaning “God be with you” or “go with God.” Still, shalom was thought to be a sign of the messianic age, as in the prophecy of Isaiah:

A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6)

Jesus isn’t just saying goodbye. He repeats his promise of peace; moreover, he gives them his peace. Who but the Messiah could do that? This is not as the world gives, for the world cannot give what it does not possess.

Shalom is how things should be, how God wants them to be — indeed, how God created them to be prior to the ruin and corruption brought by sin. In giving his peace to the disciples, Jesus is implicitly declaring to his disciples that a new age has dawned, one in which they themselves would be part of God’s mission of restoring shalom to a broken creation (cf. Matt 5:9).

Real peace is not just the absence of worry. It is the presence of a divinely given wholeness and flourishing. That’s how we should think about our eternal destiny — not just life that goes on and on, but a different quality of life, in which all is at it should be, as it was designed to be by a loving and gracious God.

And thankfully, we can have a foretaste of that peace even in the midst of our trials and tribulations. More on that in the next post.