Here’s a question for you. Has the world ever been at peace?
Some would say yes, and they would point to a startling statistic that has everything to do with war. According to a NY Times article by Chris Hedges in 2003, out of the past 3,400 (+/-) years of recorded human history, humans have been amassed a collected whopping 268 years without war. In 3400 years – only 268 years of “peace.” That’s 8% of world history involves a collected span of peace.
Of course, in that context, peace simply means an absence of war. But we know that peace means more than the absence of war. For there to be actual peace, we’d have to have a time without conflict, too. But there hasn’t been a time – perhaps at any point in human history – devoid of conflict.
There are all sorts of conflicts: family conflicts, church conflicts, conflicts between neighbors, conflicts with institutions, spouses, children, etc., etc. Conflict disturbs disrupts peace outwardly and inwardly.
Take the protests over the last few months; outwardly, a lot of the folks protesting want a peaceful protest. I understand what they mean – but – I believe that the notion of a peaceful protest is an oxymoron. I’m not sure how you can be peaceful and still protest. If folks were at peace – they wouldn’t be protesting. They are protesting because they aren’t at peace with what’s going on – and they have the right to do so. I know what they mean. They mean a nonviolent protest – but you know – even that may be stretching it a bit – because at most protests chant or yell and sometimes things get heated because, and not to be too reductionistic – they aren’t at peace. There is something stirring them up – something has unsettled their hearts, their lives, their peace. Usually, the whole reason for a protest can be linked back to an absence of peace – there is some conflict – some issue that is raging inside of folks.
Instinctively we all know that peace means much more than the absence of war. We know it has to do with conflicts, too. And we know that conflicts – things we have issues with – can impact the peace of our cities and our own inner peace. Despite the 268 years without war, the world has never been at peace – at least not since the day that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. And, for lots of people, personal peace is pretty allusive as well.
I think it is safe to say that peace is in short supply, which makes what Jesus says in Matthew 5:9 all the more compelling. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is all about what it means to be Christian. In fact, in that message, Jesus is laying out the essential qualities for being like Him and for being engaged in God’s mission in the world. Just prior to gathering his disciples on the mount, Jesus had been healing folks and His message to his disciples is all about how they, too, can participate in bringing healing to the world.
And then we come to this whole notion of being peacemakers in a world short on peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they shall be called the children of God.”
I think this admonition to be a peacemaker is a heavy order but it is exactly what Jesus was all about. If Jesus was about being a peacemaker then it is safe to say that Christians should be, too. So, how does one go about being a peacemaker when peace is so allusive? Well – understanding the word’s relationship to shalom might help.
Shalom is a fantastic word – unfortunately – we have a tough time conveying the full depth of its meaning in English. But we might think of shalom in relationship to a circle. The idea of a circle conveys the sense of being unbroken (like the old song – “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”). It is continuous, perfect, and complete. And, every point along the circumference of the circle is in the right relationship to the center.
Now imagine yourself in the center of the circle and all of your relationships are in the proper order around the circumference of the circle. Imagine what that would mean in regards to your relationships with your friends, family, neighbors, other people; imagine what it would mean to be in a right and proper relationship with God, with yourself, with all of creation! Nick Wolterstorff points out, “To dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy life with oneself.” In essence shalom means “communal well-being in every direction and in every relation. The person in the center of the circle is related justly to every point on the circumference of the circle (Bruner).”
But – we know the reality of things. We know that the circle of shalom is broken. It has been that way for a very long time. Nevertheless, Jesus is telling His people that they are to be shalom-makers. We have to understand, then, that peacemaking has to do with bringing broken things back into order, reconciling, mending broken relationships between people and God, and with one another, and institutions and systems. Shalom-makers are reconcilers. They step into the broken places of the world with the intention of closing the gap.
The first order of shalom-making is understanding that it is, as John Stott said, divine work and it is the work of those who profess faith in Jesus. Stott wrote, “Now peacemaking is divine work. For peace means reconciliation, and God is the author of peace and of reconciliation…It is the devil who is a troublemaker; it is God who loves reconciliation and who now through his children, as formerly through his only begotten Son, is bent on making peace.”
If Jesus did not intend for His disciples to be about the work of shalom-making then why would the admonition be part of His Sermon on the Mount? No, the only conclusion we can rightly draw is that God’s people are to do all that they can to live in shalom and to be about the work of restoring or making shalom.
And there is yet another thing. Jesus said, “Blessed are the shalom-makers for they will be called the children of God.”
The word that Jesus used here for son/descendant is a word that is not trying to convey a father-child relationship. Instead, it is a phrase that reflects traits – like a son or daughter who looks and acts like their parents. What Jesus is saying here is that a shalom-maker is like God – like Jesus – in character and action; the trait is reflected in what they do. In essence, Jesus is calling His people into the family business.
Nick Wolterstorff wrote, “Shalom is both God’s cause in the world and our human calling. Even though the full incursion of shalom into our history will be divine gift and not merely human achievement, even though its episodic incursion into our lives now also has a dimension of divine gift, nonetheless it is shalom that we are to work and struggle for. We are not to stand around, hands folded, waiting for shalom to arrive. We are workers in God’s cause, his peace-workers. The missio Dei is our mission.”
All of humanity was made to live in shalom – with God. But – we don’t experience the world that way – which is why God’s people are given a herculean task. We are called to be about the work of bringing healing of Jesus to a world – a world that was created to be in shalom. We can’t do this work perfectly but that doesn’t excuse us. We are to be about God’s mission – the mission of shalom-making.
Give that notion some thought. Give the idea of spending your days trying to figure out how to bring shalom wherever you go. Yes, it is overwhelming but it is also humbling that God has given you – His children – a mission for the world. You don’t need to travel all over the world to bring shalom. You can do that in every relationship – or at least attempt it. It is also the sort of mission that keeps you dependent on the One who is restoring you to shalom every day. We have been given a great task but we’ve been given the Help of the Prince of Shalom to see it through.
The Shalom of the Lord be with you –
 Nicholas Wolterstorff, Until Justice and Peace Embrace: The Kuyper Lectures for 1981 Delivered at the Free University of Amsterdam (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1983, 69-70).