The Hebrew word translated “peace” is “shalom.” But “shalom” does not mean “peace” in the way Americans think of peace. We tend to think of peace as simply the absence of conflict. When America is not at war, we say we are at peace.
This is not what God means when he says “Peace.” When God says “peace” (pretty much anytime you encounter the word “peace” in the Old Testament), what it actually means is a state of complete wholeness — that all the various pieces and parts of your life fit together well, and are in unison with each other.
Over and over again in the book of Isaiah, God says he wants the Hebrews to have shalom (wholeness and deep well-being). The problem is that they’re content (for a while) with just having peace (absence of conflict). The worst problems I have seen in the 13 years I have been pastoring and counseling are from the efforts people make to have peace and avoid shalom. We’re content (for a while) in our marriages and work relationships just to have an absence of conflict. As long as we’re not fighting, we’ll inch along day by day. We’re content with peace in our lives and don’t pursue or pray for shalom.
But even when we find peace, we still sense something is missing. Because God created us to crave wholeness and unity and deep well-being. You are created for shalom. Your spirit needs it. You were not created in half, you were created whole! And you will never rest content until you stop taking the easy way of peace and start the hard work of shalom, which always means facing the truth. Truth is the way of shalom. It could never be otherwise.
President Bush is talking about bringing peace to the Middle East. When he says that, what does he mean? Yep. A permanent cessation to fighting and violence. Forget about shalom, we’ll just settle for peace. Is this how low our standards are? We’re okay squeaking by with cessation of violence, when God stands waiting to start a massive plague of love? We’re okay joining protests for peace when God invites us to join him in the worldwide revolution he began thousands of years ago and still continues today? You say, “Dave, this isn’t a Christian country – it’s not a Christian world, peace is the best we can do.”
Yep. Quite a predicament we’re in, isn’t it? We are so short-sighted. And so naive. That’s why every effort we make to find peace in our days on this twisted, broken planet amounts to nothing and leaves us empty. You need shalom, and God can bring it. Nations need shalom and God can, and one day will, bring it. Until then, you must choose for yourself. Been married once, twice, three times? I’ll bet every time you married, you did it hoping for peace. And I’ll bet every time you divorced (if you have), you (or your partner!) did it hoping for peace. And then when you remarried, you were hoping for peace. Meanwhile, your spirit craves shalom and always will. God says shalom comes from recognizing the sacredness of marriage and learning to keep moving forward in it. But shalom is harder than peace, isn’t it? Because shalom requires truth. Got an addiction? When you gamble, or drink, or shoot up, it’s shalom you actually crave. Peace is always temporary, isn’t it? Anger problem? It’s not peace you need, it’s shalom. Tired of how hard it sometimes seems to live the Christian life? It’s not peace you need, it’s shalom. Shalom only comes from (here we go…) facing truth and conforming your life to it in every way, and then learning God’s laws for your life and committing to follow them at any cost.
If we think we’ve nailed that down because we go to church and small group, we’re in for a big surprise. If that was how to find shalom, why are marriages still on the rocks? That’s not shalom. Why are finances dreadful? That’s not shalom. Why are kids feeling neglected by their parents? That’s not shalom. Why do people whine and complain and criticize? That’s not shalom. All you who read this right now and are about to make a decision simply because you’re tired of the way things are and you want a change – that may be the way of peace, but it is not the way of shalom. You will soon find yourself empty again.
Praying shalom to you.