Bloggers Amy Peterson and Suzannah Paul got me thinking about peace. In a guest post Amy wrote for Suzannah’s blog, she described peace as “not the absence of conflict but its resolution.” Think about that.
Paul the apostle (presumably no relation to Suzannah) sought after peace in each of his letters. “Grace to you and peace,” he said at the start of the letter to the Galatians, and he wrote roughly the same hope into the opening of every other letter we have from him.
What was this “peace” he hoped his audience would have?
We don’t have it with strangers. Begin there. With strangers, we have only a polite absence of quarrel, but again, peace is not found in the mere absence. In the Hebrew that Paul studied, peace is shalom—meaning things as they should be, including relationships fully realized.
And in the Greek in which Paul wrote his letters, peace was eirene. The word suggests restoration and flourishing between people, even prosperity.
Peace such as this is so precious, we want to imagine we have more of it than we do.
This partly explains the grip of information media. These outlets absorb our attention by providing the illusion of peace. Exchanged texts or tweets seem a bit like shalom, and the emotion of a TV show can feel fleetingly like eirene. Throughout history, people have always been able to evade human relationship, but our time is very different because, with our technology, we also have the ability to sedate our very desire for relationship. We can replace the direct experience of people with surrogate experiences that are way more tidy.
Commenting on this phenomenon, Ms. Peterson cited the Old Testament’s book of Ezekiel, in which God condemns the false prophets who say “Peace!” when there is no peace. Are we those same false prophets?
Given all of what Paul meant by “peace,” his formulation—grace to you and peace—can be seen to describe a natural sequence. Grace comes first. Grace includes God’s lavish forgiveness and the freedom arising from this, the freedom to reclaim one’s authentic self.
Then, in a world that is filled and defined by people, real peace with people provides the opportunity for that self to flourish. Trusting cooperation with others gives wings to our efforts and allows those efforts to be valuable.
Grace is what we need. After that, real peace—as elusive as it is and as difficult as it is to obtain—is what we really want.
Posted November 15, 2012