The word “peace” comes up a lot in the New Testament; like about 90 times according to Strong’s Concordance. Because of that, you hear the word tossed around by Christians all the time. People talking about the peace they feel because they’re “saved”; peace being wished to others, hell, that’s part of Methodist worship. In a traditional service in the Methodist church, there is a section called “Passing of the Peace”, where you turn to the people around you and say “Peace be with you”. And, since we are such an anal denomination, there is a correct answer, which is “And, also with you”. Just to show you what an incredibly bad Methodist I am, when this comes up I rarely give the “correct” answer, nor do I start out with the “correct” phrase. I’m a very rebellious sort (as if you didn’t already know that) and it’s just not in me to follow the rules with any regularity. To say that John Wesley and I probably wouldn’t have gotten along is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. This rebellious streak is a double-edged sword. It causes me to question everything; then again, it causes me to question everything. And, today’s question is: I always hear people talking about the peace they feel when they receive God’s gift of grace, but I don’t. How can I feel peaceful when there’s so much work to be done?
How can I feel peaceful when children of God, my brothers and sisters, don’t have enough to eat? How can I feel peace when my brothers and sisters don’t have a roof over their heads? How can I feel peace when my brothers and sisters suffer and even die from diseases that are easily prevented or treated because they don’t have healthcare? How can I feel peace when my brothers and sisters are damaged physically, mentally and emotionally by violence on a daily basis? How can I feel peace when my brothers and sisters are constantly discriminated against because of the color of their skin, where they worship or who they sleep with? How can I feel peace when the government of the country that supposed to be a shining light to the world is more concerned with keeping the wealthy…, wealthy than they are with taking care of those less fortunate? Why should I feel the peace that Christ wished for all of us when so many of my brothers and sisters are so far from that peace?
I’ve been wrestling with this question a good bit lately and I’m no closer to an answer than I was when I started. Knowing that when you’re dealing with scripture context is key, I started looking for the meaning of this word “peace”. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, I dug around and found the Greek word used in this instance was “eirene”, which means “prosperity, peace, quietness, rest” according to Strong’s Greek lexicon. Now, I know that Koine Greek was the common written language in that part of the world, but it wasn’t the language that Jesus used for most of his teaching. That would be Aramaic, a semitic language closely related to Hebrew. Most likely, when Jesus spoke of peace, he would have used some form of the word “shalom”. Shalom, like so many words from the Bible has a ton of different meanings, which can be anything from hello and good-bye to completeness, contentment, soundness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety, rest, harmony, tranquility and more. And, none of this helps me with my question. How can I, as a follower of Jesus and one dedicated to improving the lot of the people around me, feel any of these things while so many others do not? Maybe we’re not supposed to feel these things until others do. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I don’t have an answer and, honestly, I’m not sure that I ever will.