A few weekends ago I celebrated my first wedding anniversary with a short holiday at Whangamata. After 12 months of getting to know my new wife—with all the joy and fumbling in confusion that this change brings—it was a delight to spend a few days reflecting on our first steps on this journey together.
And, if you asked me to describe the weekend, I’d use a word that we’re all familiar with.Peaceful. It was peaceful.
What did I mean when I used this word? It meant we were free from obligation. It meant the stresses of the world seemed far away. We had no calls on our time or limitations on our actions.
We could sleep till 10. Heck, we could stay in bed all day if we wanted. We were free to walk, talk, read, adventure, care, eat—and more. Our world was in our hands.
That is what we mean when we say a holiday is peaceful. It is, literally, full of peace.
This peace is a microcosm of the Western dream. Above all else, we want to be free from any obligation. There are blogs dedicated to the pursuit of the side-hustle—not for the joy of creating, but for a life free from being a slave-to-the-wage. Travel beckons as an escape from the pressures of here, for a life of freedom and self-discovery there. Tinder offers the possibility of sex without the mundaneness and limitation of relationship.
The freedom to do what we want—this is our dream of peace.
As some of you may know, the word ‘peace’ appears not just in our songs and symbols, but also in the Scriptures. The Bible is full of peace. David sung that God blesses his people with peace. Paul wrote that peace guards our minds. Peter urged people to seek peace. Jesus himself said that he was leaving us with peace.
And it’s tempting to think that they’re talking about the same peace that we are.
We assume that this peace of Jesus means freedom from conflict. A freedom from poverty of bank and of self. A freedom from anything that seeks to limit us—and instead, an entrance into a boundaryless space, where we can do what we want, and be what we want.
Yet the word that the Israelites used for peace—and still use today—is much richer than this. This word, ‘shalom’, has a depth and a delightful balance in its meaning that calls us deeper into life, rather than seeking freedom from it.
In the first instance, shalom speaks of completeness and flourishing. When something is shalom,it is as it should be.
So, when Solomon completed the unfinished temple, and began to celebrate, - he shalom-ed the temple. He fulfilled the unfinished state, so that the temple could do what it was meant to do.
In the ancient laws of Israel, if your animal damaged your neighbour’s field, you were obliged to shalom them, by making complete payment for their loss. You take what is now lacking in their livelihood, and restore it to completion.
This is the Biblical picture of peace. An act of restoration and of flourishing.
When nations entered into shalom with each other it meant more than a ceasefire. It meant they began to collaborate, to seek mutual benefit and to discover what it would look like for both kingdoms to thrive and bless.
And what does this mean for us?
Shalom allows humans to be fully human.
This is the beautiful, double-edged nature of shalom.
As we begin to experience the shalom of God’s presence, we breathe a sigh of relief. This is an alternate reality—far from striving for position and clutching at resources to develop your own kingdom of wealth.
This is a reality that beckons you to participate, just as you are. This is a call that announces you’ve arrived—you are a child of God, and are free to flourish in the truth of this identity. This is grace, as you delight and discover the thirst-quenching truth that our souls are restless until they find their home in their Creator.
But this shalom is not a freedom to go and do what you want. No, it is a far greater peace than what the world offers.
The shalom of God is a call to action, a beckoning of our very selves to become the people we were designed to be. We are destined to be whole, complete reflectors of God to a broken hurting world.
Yes, shalom comforts us with the truth that God loves us right where we are. Yet it goes further than this, and tells of a God who loves us so much he doesn’t want to leave us as we are. Hewants us to join in on the work of the Kingdom of God. God wants to complete the temple of our lives. God doesn’t desire us to use his peace as an escape—but for his shalom to call us deeper into reality.
If we treat the peace of God as an invitation to go and do whatever we want, we reflect a broken idolatry, rather than a jaw-dropping display of the beauty, love and grace of God.
See, Jesus whispers that we are dearly loved, and then calls us to give our false lives away. That is shalom.
God speaks to an ancient wandering nomad, promising him life and blessing. Then, God tells him to leave all that he is familiar with and to follow him. That is shalom.
Jesus reveals the power of God’s presence to working class fishermen, and then tells them to bring themselves into the kingdom journey he is inaugurating. That is shalom.
The same Jesus, our glorious rabbi, offers grace and restoration to a woman caught in shameful adultery, and then urges her to leave her life of sin. That is shalom.
Novelist David Foster Wallace was close to the heart of shalom, when he reflected, “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”
In God’s shalom is freedom and attention. There is peace and discipline. There is grace and effort. There is Sabbath and service, faith and deeds.
And this is what we are called to.
StudioOne is a space where we want to explore what it means to experience shalom. We invite musicians, artists, designers, entrepreneurs, pastors, students, teachers, mums and dads—everyone!—to join us in this exploration.
How have you experienced shalom in your life? How do you embrace the tension of God’s peace—which quiets us to rest and calls us to bring our all to this life? Where do you see shalom most clearly in the Scriptures and in your world?
By Jeremy Suisted