Whatever Happened to Shalom?
We know that the world’s original harmony was wrecked by sin. Like a Molotov cocktail thrown into a backyard garden, sin exploded the world that God had made, fracturing and dividing it. Instead of wholeness, brokenness; instead of health, illness; instead of friendship with God, alienation; instead of peace, strife.
Because we live in this fallen world that is yet to be fully redeemed, we can only glimpse the fullness of God’s shalom. Scripture tells us, however, about God’s original intentions for the world he made. Consider the Hebrew word shalom, which is often translated “peace” in English translations of the Bible. Comparing the word peace to the word shalom is like comparing a twig to a log or a boy to a man. When we think of peace, we tend to think of an inner sense of calm or an absence of conflict. Shalom, however, means these things and more. It means “wellness,” “completeness,” “perfection,” “safety,” “soundness,” “success,” “wholeness,” “health,” and good relationships between people and nations. When there is shalom, everything is as it should be, our lives are as God meant them to be, our world is in the order he intended.
To experience peace in its fullness is to experience healing, satisfaction, prosperity. To be at peace is to be happy, fulfilled. It is a sign of the blessed life of the new creation. Peace has a whiff of paradise about it. It offers us a taste of the world to come.
Sometimes we sense this kind of peace as we worship with others, or as we pray quietly, or when forgiveness is asked for and received. Shalom is life as it should be. Bent things are straightened. Hurt things are healed.
The Bible, however, locates shalom in only one place—in God himself. Early in the history of his people, God instructed Moses to extend this blessing to them:
The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24–26)
We find peace by living in harmony with God. As we do, our divisions, both external and internal, start to heal. We become fulfilled, complete. The harmony we have with him in turn produces harmony with others and harmony within ourselves.
I admit that I have yet to meet anyone who seems perfectly at peace. But I do know some who seem closer to that ideal than others. Mr. José was the janitor at my daughter’s elementary school. Even without a high status job he was one of the most admired men I knew. Parents and students loved Mr. José because he was kind to even the most difficult children. The peace he radiated helped set the tone for the entire school.
I know a pastor and his wife who have experienced extraordinary things in their ministry. Whenever I hear about their next venture, my stomach begins to churn because of the risks they take. I have watched them as they have listened to God and then made decisions that can’t possibly work unless God comes through. And he does come through in remarkable ways. Maybe you know people like that, people who are able to take on challenges with an underlying sense that no matter what happens, God is still with them.