As we have previously discussed, shalom was God’s original intent for his creation. God is most glorified when his creation works as he intended. This is the very essence of shalom. This was the way it was supposed to be, everything working as God originally intended.
As we look around today, the absence of shalom is all too obvious. What happened, and how can it be made right? To answer these questions, it may be helpful to look at a model of redemptive history we call the four-chapter gospel. By this, we mean seeing the historical redemptive narrative told by the Bible in four parts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Creation shows the way things were, the fall explains the way things are, redemption shows the way things are going to be, and restoration demonstrates the way things will be. This four-chapter gospel is the most appropriate framework for assessing all worldviews, including Christianity.
The idea of shalom comes full circle from Genesis to the book of Revelation. Full shalom is seen in the Garden of Eden, at creation, and full shalom will characterize the eternal city, the New Jerusalem, in the final chapter of Redemption. To truly understand this concept of shalom, we must see it in the context of this “four-chapter gospel.” Today, we will look at shalom in the first chapter: creation.
Why did God create the heavens and the earth? What was the purpose for everything he created? We find the answer to this question throughout the scriptures.
We read in Revelation, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11, AKJV). This idea is repeated throughout scripture, telling us God created everything, the entire universe, for his pleasure, that he might be glorified.
We see this idea in the opening chapter of Genesis when we read about the six days of creation. At the end of the sixth day, after God had created man and woman and his work is complete, we read, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). God was delighted with all of his work and when he looked at it, it gave him great pleasure.
This is the first hint in the biblical story of God’s original intent for his creation. The purpose of God was to find pleasure in and be glorified by his creation. He looks out on the creation and sees everything that he has made is working together just as he had planned. This is why God describes it as “very good.”
Here we see one of the great truths of the created universe that is often overlooked. The word that best describes God’s creation is interdependence. From the very beginning, there is a connectedness, a unity that ties the whole of creation together. Everything works together in perfect harmony, from the smallest subatomic particles to the largest galaxies spinning in space. There is a “right” relationship among everything in the created order. This is the essence of shalom.
Look at a “simple,” single cell, for example. Although the simplest building block of all life, it includes scores of functioning components, each performing a unique function and all working together for the good, the shalom of the whole. Remove any one of the parts, and the cell dies. Look at the other end of the spectrum. Scientists have realized for years that the fundamental constants and quantities of the universe have been carefully “fine tuned.” This “fine-tuning” found in astrophysics is another picture of shalom.
Connection—The Heart of Shalom
The idea of interdependence in God’s created order is a very important principle in understanding shalom because shalom is based on relationships. On the sixth day of creation, everything in the new created order perfectly related to everything else. The perfect harmony that God describes as “very good” (Gen. 1:31) is the result of all creation’s relationships existing in perfect shalom.
Adam and Eve were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, 27). While volumes have been written over the centuries by scholars trying to define what it means to be made in God’s image, the majority agree on several things. It at least means that we were made to be relational beings who have the ability to reason and the creativity to solve problems. It means that we can operate in our own self-interest to improve our situations. And finally, as God’s image bearers, we were created for a purpose and are driven to make decisions that improve our situations, moving us toward our goals.
Pastor Tim Keller affirms that because we were created in the image of God, we are “intrinsically relational.” This is why Jesus summarized the Old Testament law by saying, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27). Right relationship with God leads to a right relationship with our neighbor. We cannot talk about shalom without talking about community. Keller writes in The Reason for God:
As God is in perpetual relationship [in the Trinity] so we are intrinsically relational. The Christian gospel is not so much individuals becoming right with God as it is establishment of God’s community. We work for justice, we live for service, we honor the dignity of our fellow human beings created in the image of God, we strengthen our human communities, we become stewards of the material world, and we create through science and gardening and art.
God has designed each of us with an innate desire to pursue happiness and flourishing in the context of relationships. The problem is not that we seek pleasure; the problem is that we seek pleasure from idols found outside our relationship with God. God does not condemn people for seeking happiness, but for seeking it from sources other than himself (Jer. 2:13).
In my next article, we’ll look at the fall’s impact on shalom.
Editor’s Note: The new booklet, Reweaving Shalom: Your Work and the Restoration of All Things, from which this article is adapted is now available as a digital download! Download your copy here.