Written by Jeff Benson
Shalom. Considered to be one of the most prominent theological concepts in the Old Testament, shalom refers to a complete state of well being in both mind and body. In its essence, this kind of peace is one that requires active participation and a willful acknowledgement by the person to state that they are in effect creating peace. It is possible, therefore, to say that in order for one to be at peace they must also be one who creates peace. It is within this concept that Jesus speaks “Blessed are the peacemakers…” to those who are surrounding Him upon that mountain.
I find this concept a difficult one to swallow, and an even more difficult one to live out. As someone who struggles with mental illness, the creation of a peaceful space is not an easy task. What’s more, the idea of actively making something usually thought of as passive sounds exhausting and usually leaves me no better than where I was at the start of this beloved thought exercise. Perhaps I’m the only one, but when I observe someone who by all appearances is naturally at peace, it can be a frustrating and self-incriminating experience. It’s as if I’m deficient in something that by all accounts is overflowing in others. But then again, I do not believe that I’m alone in this.
Nor do I believe that this is a new issue in our faith, but rather is one that extends well into the distant past. Isaac is a man who actively worked to cultivate peace as much as he cultivated his crops and tended his flocks. Genesis 26 recounts that because of his daily work he was prosperous and wealthy. And rather than give into the temptation to fight against Abimelech, Isaac simply gathered what he could, and departed for the valley of Gerar. In this we see that God blessed Isaac and later granted him the clearance to return to his original land and reopen the wells that initially caused him the trouble.
In his efforts, Isaac actively worked for peace. He had to make decisions that considered whether something would cause strife among those he was dealing with. The need to maintain peace despite the shame of retreat is actually what ends up being his salvation and avoids a bloody confrontation. Such a task is not easy for one such as Isaac, blessed with success and a desire to have living space for his herds, and it is likewise not easy for our people today who desire a healthy and successful life.
Peace is not common in our society. I have personally sat down with individuals from many different walks of life; from those at the height of society, to those we politely refer to in our churches as ‘the least of these’. I have spoken to and listened to the most conservative and the most radical bleeding-heart liberals. I have dined over coffee with those who fear for their very lives because of some aspect of their personality, and those who would throw a fit if you spelled their name wrong on a coffee cup. Out of all these different kinds of people though, there is one thing that seems to bind them together and transcend every label they self-identify with.
They all are seeking for deep and lasting peace.
If it’s not the mother of the seven-year-old with autism, it’s the college student stressed over how they might pay for the upcoming semester. The world at large is struggling with peace. It is at this point that I could very easily smack you in the face with a platitudinous phrase and allow you to move on with the rest of your day. But I do believe there is more to be discussed if we are to have any chance at creating peace for ourselves and those around us.
I would like to return to what was said at the top of this article regarding the Hebrew concept of shalom. Unlike much of the words we have in English, Hebrew and other languages like it convey concepts that are more broad than what we would use in English. This is to say that one word can convey a wide combination of English phrases that have equal value. Such is the case for shalom. On an individual level, shalom can refer to an inner state of being wherein one is aware of their life circumstance and is in a content state of being. In this sense, peace is between the soul and the mind of an individual that “all is well”.
More broadly however, peace is a concept that extends to how we as individual persons interact with other individual persons. In the Anglican tradition and others that are like it, there is in fact a specific portion in the service dedicated to “passing the peace.” While some may view this as an opportunity to shake someone’s hand with a smile and a greeting, the more ancient tradition reveals a time where Christian brothers and sisters are encouraged to confirm with one another that there is peace within the body and that all can approach the communion table in clear conscience. In the context of the Hebrew people, the idea of passing the peace is very similar and often used both as a greeting and to validate the covenant between people that they are not in strife with one another.
It is in these moments that we progress in our understanding of shalom from an individual peace to peace within our community, specifically the community of faith. It is the acknowledgement that says, as my northern family would say, “We good?” “Yeah, we’re good.” It is imperative that if we truly desire to be at peace in our communities that we make efforts to ask one another “we good?” if at least on a semi-regular basis. Personally, I have had my fair share of forgetting to check in with a brother or a sister, and unknown to me have a serious issue of strife that had the potential to destroy several friendships. If we are to be considered the family of God, then it would stand to reason that as a family we should make sure to look out for one another, even if they are an inflammatory person who is never quite clear on their emotions.
And even for those who refuse to be at peace with one another (there’s got to be at least a few of you reading this article) your peace extends far beyond you as far as the people that it impacts. This is to say that by refusing peace, we end up becoming selfish individuals who are either ignorant or obstinate to the well-being of all whom we encounter. This is further expressed by Paul in Romans 12:18, where Christians are instructed to be at peace with everyone and to leave room for God’s wrath. Furthermore, James describes in chapter 3 how a harvest of righteousness shall come by those who are making peace. While I unfortunately cannot say much regarding those who are not Christian, I can at the very least acknowledge that those who refuse plainly to live at peace are condemned to live in bondage; their chains being the very wrath that they refuse to let go of.
Now that there has been plenty spoken about those who make peace, it is important to turn our attention to what the result is according to Christ for those who are making peace. According to the scriptures, they are referred to as the sons (gk.υἱοὶ [hwee-oi]) of God. This phrasing is rather peculiar, as rather than some metaphorical concept as some are tempted to think, the application of sonship in this passage refers to the familial and thus inherited position of those who are in the family of faith. This phrase extends beyond the physical children that one may have and is meant to include all the Church as heirs to Christ’s righteousness. And in this righteousness which we share, we are also endowed with all the rights and privileges prescribed for someone who is a child of the Most High.
Moreover, it can also be said that the use of υἱοὶ as an indication of sonship is also used as a term of endearment and provokes the image of God the Father in delight over the efforts of His children. Simply put, though I am not a father myself, I do believe that any parent would be in total delight to witness their children making an effort to be a peace with those around them and not attempting to incite some sort of household war effort (a common sight amongst my two younger siblings and I).
Therefore, like the response to the Vietnam war, in our own small wars we might want to “give peace a chance.” And it is an active choice that we must make, for if we do nothing it simply will not ever be. If we desire to continue in our own unrest and simply wallow in our own despair, then I have nothing to say. But if like me you desire to see a world where the family of Faith is actively seeking out the care of one another, then perhaps we could see an impact on this world. May we be known as the “people of peace” as much as we know that we follow the God of peace, and may He continue to keep us blameless in spirit and soul, and sanctify our efforts to be united in peace.
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 Clendenen, E. Ray. “Peace.” Edited by Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, and Trent C. Butler. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.
 Paul Rogers “The Greatest Peacemaker in The Old Testament” Truth for Today, 2004 (Accessed September 10, 2018).
 Adapted from 1 Thessalonians 5:23