Updated: May 4, 2021
My daughter Kahlan was calmly sitting at the table and had already finished her breakfast when I stumbled through the front door overheated and completely exhausted. For several months, I had been training for the Blue Ridge Relay (https://www.waypointrdu.com/post/running-in-the-dark), and I brought her along with me to train. But on that particular morning run, I had trouble keeping pace, so I let her run on ahead. Something felt very “off” but I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then for the next few days my overall health started to decline, eventually culminating in a Covid-19 test – which came back positive.
Accompanying that pronouncement, my ailment became not only physical but also equally mental and emotional. You see, in an instant, you (the Covid-19 afflicted), have now become the leper. You have to be socially isolated, and so you feel alone. And you feel scared for what is happening inside your body. At the same time, you become a spectacle, a curiosity, a novelty to others.
I share this experience as an example of what it’s like when your entire sense of peace, your ‘shalom’ is under attack. In the English language, we tend to think of peace as just the absence of conflict. But in Hebrew, peace or ‘shalom’ is defined as much more than that - shalom means “wholeness” or “completeness” in all things. For example, shalom can refer to a well-being or state of mind. When David approached his brothers on the battle-lines (pre-Goliath encounter), he asked them about their well-being, their “shalom” (1 Samuel 17:22). It can refer to wholeness in relationships – relationships between each other, between kingdoms or countries, and most critically, between us and God.
The very essence of the gospel rests on this truth – that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) but that a way has been made for salvation through Jesus Christ. A way that leads to shalom - wholeness, completeness, peace. Romans 5:1 simply declares, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus.” And Ephesians 2:14–16 elaborates further, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”
If you look closely at this last verse, Paul is effectively saying, “Jesus himself is our peace.” Not merely that Jesus gives us peace but that Jesus is the very essence of completeness and wholeness imparted to us.
During the prophet Isaiah’s time, shalom was frequently used in reference to peace between kingdoms. Within this context, peace did not only mean the absence of conflict but also the working together for each other’s benefit. The kings’ role was to cultivate this type of peace or shalom, but they were largely unsuccessful. Thus, Isaiah looked forward to a future king, a “Prince of Shalom.” Isaiah 9:6b says, “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Going back to my previous story about dealing with the fallout from Covid, I wish I could tie everything up with a nice “happily ever after” ending. But the reality is that my challenges did not disappear because I could better grasp some new theological insight about peace. What followed Covid was a longer than expected physical recovery period. And then, in August, my company had a poor fiscal year, my position was eliminated, and I found myself unemployed as sole provider for a family of five. By the sheer Grace of God our family has managed and continues to manage in the aftermath of these challenging circumstances.
I share this because (if it isn’t clear already) finding peace is not about arranging the perfect circumstances to come true so that you “feel peaceful” inside. It’s about finding a person, and His name is Jesus. Jesus embodies every aspect of shalom – wholeness, completeness, restoration. Every day when I wake up, I can feel this tension between how I wish my world was and how it actually is. And then I run to Jesus, my shalom, my peace. The anchor in the storms of my life. The one who has come to give us life abundantly (John 10:10b).
As we approach Christmas time and we come to the close of this tumultuous year, I wanted to close with the very words Jesus gives to us his children from John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”