by Rev David Lee
We often laugh when participants of beauty pageants wish for world peace. It just sounds so clichéd. But as we survey the world, peace is indeed what we need today. The political unrest in Egypt, Turkey and Syria; the crisis in the Korean Peninsula; the financial challenges in Europe… One cannot help but conclude that the world is in a pretty messy state. Of course, we need peace not just in the affairs of nations but in the lives of individuals as well. Luke tells us that Jesus and His disciples were crossing the sea in a boat when suddenly a storm arose and the boat was buffeted by the waves (Luke 8:22-25). Storms in life come at the most unexpected times. Life is vulnerable and we fall victim to our circumstances so easily, like the little boat in the midst of the storm. No wonder peace was what the Lord promised the disciples at the hour of His departure (John 14:27).
Shalom and Its Multi-faceted Meaning
The Bible has a lot to say about peace. The Hebrew word, which is often translated as “peace” in English is ם לָׁש (transliterated as “shalom”). In the Old Testament, shalom is a word packed and loaded with different nuances such that it has been translated into many different words in English. It could refer to an all-encompassing state of well-being (Leviticus 26:6; Numbers 6:24-26); tranquility and peace (Psalms 4:8); health and good life (Genesis 43:27-28); protection from harm (Judge 18:6; 19:20); economic prosperity (1 Chronicles 4:40; Zechariah 8:12); absence of strife and war and political stability (1 Chronicles 22:9; 2 Kings 20:19; Isaiah 32:18); social harmony where justice and righteousness are enforced (Malachi 2:6; Isaiah 59:8) and truth upheld (Esther 9:30; Zechariah 8:19). A writer rightly observed that shalom is like Joseph’s coat of many colors! As we come into the New Testament, this richness of the Hebrew “shalom” is inherited in the Greek εἰρήνη (transliterated as “eirene”).
In order to capture the richness of shalom in its varied forms and nuances, it is more appropriate to describe shalom as a unifying vision that God has for His creation. Scriptures reveal that shalom is what God wills and desires for His creation. Indeed, this image of shalom was evident from the very beginning in Genesis. The earth was in a state of darkness and disorder (Genesis 1:2). But as God entered into this chaos and unrest, the result was the creation of a world blessed by God (Genesis 1-2). Even though the word was never explicitly used, the creation account is a picture of shalom. Over and over again, the account is filled with the refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” There was order in creation. There were blessings commanded by God. There was shalom.
Even when sin ravaged what God had intended for His creation, God’s vision of shalom remained unchanged. God chose Abraham to be the father of all nations (Genesis 12:23; 17:4-5). It is a vision where mankind will no longer be divided by ethnicity, nationality or social class. Rather, united as one single family, we will enjoy the blessings of God. So, as God’s vessel of blessings to the world, Israel has always preserved this vision of shalom. Israel looks forward to the day when all nations will be unified around God’s will; a day when there will be no need for arms and weapons of destruction – a day of world peace (Isaiah 2:2-4). This vision is even more grandiose in Isaiah 11 where shalom is more than just peace amongst mankind but where all creation lives in harmony and unity under the rule of its Creator. God sees a day when the predator will graze alongside its prey and the child will play in safety amongst ferocious beasts.
Covenant of Peace
In fact, God is so committed to this vision of shalom that He seals it as an everlasting covenant (Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 34:25; 37:26). In the fullness of time, this covenant was ratified in the blood of His only Son Jesus Christ.
In the account where the disciples and Christ encounter the storm at sea (Luke 8:22-25), Luke paints in our minds a picture of darkness and chaos that immediately brings us back to the scene in Genesis 1:2, where “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Only this time, it is not the Spirit of God who is hovering over the troubled waters. This time, it is the Son of God who is in the midst of the storm. In a very graphic way, Luke reveals to us that just as the Spirit brought in shalom at the first creation, Jesus is the one who will usher in the shalom of God in the new creation.
So how does Jesus bring shalom to our world? In the understanding of Paul the Apostle, Jesus brings shalom by restoring relationships. By His sacrifice, Jesus breaks down the dividing wall of hostility between sinful man and righteous God (Ephesians 2:12-14). In Christ, the enmity and the dividing lines in human societies are removed. As we take on this new identity in Christ, we are no longer defined by our ethnicity, social class, skin color, or our sex. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The vision of shalom given to Abraham is now fulfilled through Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:29). No one could have put it in a better way than Paul – Jesus is our shalom (Ephesians 2:14).
Foretaste of Shalom in the New Order
Of course, each time we read the papers or listen to the news, we are painfully aware that we have yet to experience the fullness of shalom that God intends for creation. The picture of the lion lying down with the calf or of the child playing by the adder’s den remains as that – a vision. The world is still in chaos and indeed will continue to be until the return of our King. Like the disciples in the boat, Christians too find our shalom threatened on occasion by chaos. Nevertheless, shalom is a present reality that we can enjoy in the here and now. The new order has broken in and we can have a foretaste of shalom right now. I am not just talking about inner, spiritual peace. I am talking about shalom that permeates the various aspects of our lives. As we look at our churches today, many of us enjoy satisfying relationships. By the grace of God, many of us have also been blessed in material ways. Of course, some are more well-off than others, but generally we would agree that God has provided for us faithfully. And we should praise God for that. But as we experience this foretaste of God’s shalom, there are 2 things we need to constantly remind ourselves.
1. Shalom is a Gift
Shalom is a gift we receive humbly from God. The irony of human lives is that blessings quickly become snares. Jesus told a parable of a rich man who depended on himself to amass wealth and secure his own well-being (Luke 12:16-21). Like the man in the parable, we too entertain the thought that the state of our world depends on us. We have sleepless nights worrying about what we need to do. We work harder than we should so that we can maintain a certain standard of living. We worry and agonize over how we can have more. The truth of the matter is that all of these blessings are a gift from God. And to remind us of this truth, God instituted the Sabbath Day (Exodus 20:8-11). The reason for the Sabbath is both humbling and liberating. We rest because God rested. And God rested because He is confident that what He has created and ordained will function as He intended. Our lives do not depend on us alone. Our lives are secure in God’s hands (Matthew 6:25-33).
2. Shalom is a Responsibility
Shalom is a gift to be enjoyed, but it is also a responsibility to be embraced. We who have received this gift are charged to be faithful managers to care for others in the absence of our Master (Matthew 24:45-46). God has given many of us resources that we should not hoard but share with those in need. God has elevated many of us to positions of influence and power that we should not abuse for our own selfish agenda but exercise for the welfare of others. Not only are we called to live in the shalom of God, we are called to share and build up shalom in the life of others.
Shalom and the Lord’s Table
Shalom as a gift and a responsibility is vividly presented before us every time we celebrate Holy Communion. As we offer up our gifts of bread and wine, we are reminded that everything in heaven and on earth is God’s. All things come from Him, and of His own we give to Him. The words of institution remind us that it was Jesus who took the bread and the cup at the supper. It was Jesus who gave thanks and gave to His disciples. As we feast at His table, we recognize that it is still Jesus who stretches forth His hands to feed His brothers and sisters. We are invited to simply enjoy the provision of His abundance. The Holy Communion reminds us that God delights in our shalom and has given us shalom in His Son.
At the Table, we are also reminded of our responsibility towards shalom. As we share the Peace with one another, we affirm that “we are the Body of Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”. We encourage one another to pursue “all that makes for peace (shalom) and builds up our common life.”
So whenever we come to the Lord’s Table, let us give thanks for God’s shalom. Nourished and rejuvenated by the Lord, let us who share in His body take up the mandate to live His risen life. We who drink His cup bring life to others. We whom the Spirit lights bring light to the world. Keeping the vision of shalom before us, let us along with all of creation live to praise God’s name, through Christ our Lord.
1. Good, E. M. “Peace in the OT” in The Interpreter’s dictionary of the Bible; an illustrated encyclopedia identifying and explaining all proper names and significant terms and subjects in the Holy Scriptures, including the Aprocrypha, with attention to archaeological discoveries and researches into the life and faith of ancient times, vol. 3, ed. Buttrick, George Arthur. New York, NY: Abingdon Press, 1962, pp. 705-706.
2. Healey, P. Joseph. “PEACE in the Old Testament” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, ed. Freedman, David Noe. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992, pp. 206-207.
3. Klassen, William. “PEACE in the New Testament” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, ed. Freedman, David Noe. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992, pp. 207-212.
4. Mitton C.L. “Peace in the NT” in The Interpreter’s dictionary of the Bible; an illustrated encyclopedia identifying and explaining all proper names and significant terms and subjects in the Holy Scriptures, including the Aprocrypha, with attention to archaeological discoveries and researches into the life and faith of ancient times, vol. 3, ed. Buttrick, George Arthur. New York, NY: Abingdon Press, 1962, pp. 706. 5. Walter, Brueggemann. Peace. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001. 6. Youngblood, R. F. “Peace” in The International standard Bible encyclopaedia, vol. 3, ed. Orr, James. Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915, pp. 732-733.
Rev. David Lee is married to Veronica and they have 2 girls, Alethea and Clara, aged 9 and 7 respectively. Gradutated from Trinity Theological College in 2010, David is ordained as a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Singapore and currently serving in St Andrew’s Community Chapel.
This article first appeared in Issue 8, August 2013 CHORUS Magazine.