Our vocation is, I believe, to build good out of evil. For if we try to build good out of good, we are in danger of running out of raw material.
– Paul Tournier
I spoke at a men’s retreat last weekend. The last lecture I delivered was on Jeremiah 29:7, where Jeremiah writes to the Israeli exiles in Babylon:
Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
The Hebrew word for “peace and prosperity” in this text is shalom. The common definition understood around the world is simply “peace.” The word shalom is often used to both greet people or to bid them farewell.
However, “peace” is only one small part of the meaning of shalom. It means much more than peace, hello, or goodbye.
Shalom is a complete peace. It is a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, well-being and harmony.
There was perfect shalom in the garden, and there will be perfect shalom in the New Heaven and New Earth. It is the way things are supposed to be. It is what we all long for.
Jesus, the Prince of Shalom, came into the world to bring this peace. Only through him will shalom be fully restored throughout his entire creation.
We only experience shalom through our relationship with Jesus. It is through that redemptive relationship that he not only begins to restore shalom to each one of us individually, but also transforms us into agents of his shalom.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his book The Cost of Discipleship,
The followers of Jesus have been called to peace. When he called them they found their peace, for he is their peace. But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it.
Unfortunately, over the centuries, a Christian tradition has developed around the idea of shalom as little more than an overly spiritualized and emotional inner feeling with very little importance to the social and political arena. Certainly, an inner serenity is an important element of the peace God wants us to receive.
But the shalom of God means much more, embracing all the dimensions of human life:
Having received the shalom of Christ in our hearts, God through this Word calls and challenges us to practice reweaving shalom in this broken world.
In the beatitudes, when Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9), he is talking about our call to reweave shalom. Jesus is stating that we are called to live our lives intentionally by:
- Doing everything we can to promote the common good by giving everyone the opportunity to flourish.
- Doing things that point toward the time when God completely restores full shalom in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
Those who do this are the ones who can be called the “children of God.”
When speaking of this passage, Biblical scholar William Hendriksen writes,
…by their promotion of peace, they have entered into the very sphere of their Father’s own activity. They are his co-workers. By their trustful attitude and many good works, performed out of gratitude and to the glory of God, they have become their Lord’s agents who are everywhere engaged in the business of crowding the evil out of human hearts by filling them with all that is good and noble. They are, as it were, God’s own peace corps.
Douglas Schuurman writes in his book Vocation,
Even as every Christian is called to love God and neighbor, so each Christian is called to offer her or his life to serve God’s Shalom. In all their callings – home and extended family, friendships, paid work, cultural activity, and political life – Christians must strive to establish justice, contribute to the common good, and promote enjoyment of life in creation under God’s reign…Christians should see all relational spheres of life as contributing somehow to God’s Shalom.
Reweaving shalom is not something else we need to add to our to-do list. It is not something else to do, but the way God wants us to look at everything we do – especially our vocational work.
To live a life of reweaving shalom is to enjoy living before God. It is to enjoy living in his physical creation, experiencing a glimpse of the way things are supposed to be. When we do what he has called us do with this perspective, we truly “enter into the joy of the Master.”
What do you think? What is your understanding of shalom? How can you being to reweave shalom in your own life? Leave your comments here.