By Gary D. Robinson
Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, who helped build the first atomic bomb, was holding a press conference when someone asked him whether there was any defense against this awesome weapon. “Certainly,” Oppenheimer replied. Everyone leaned forward in anticipation. “Peace,” he said.
I’m sure Oppenheimer spoke with a trace of irony. A smart man like him would know that, in this world, conflict is inevitable. Sometimes the conflict is between them and us, sometimes between you and me. More often the conflict is within us, struggles with guilt and shame, fear and worry. So many struggles, so little peace!
To list but one of many examples, as you read this, Christmas will be but a month away. It’s supposed to be a time of joy and blessing, but for many, the holidays are emptiness at best, agony at worst. There’s no good time to be laid off from work, but some, like the holidays, are worse than others. A rift between family members grows wider at Thanksgiving. Here’s an empty chair at the table—a stark reminder of the death of a loved one. How much emptier the space at Christmas!
If this world gives anything, it’s trouble. There is sickness and loneliness and depression. There is poverty and grief. This is that sea of troubles of which Shakespeare wrote, the “gloom, despair, and agony on me” that the Hee Haw bunch parodied—because sometimes we don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the perverse dishes life serves us. These are the bombs that fall on the heart. Mr. Oppenheimer, please tell us. Is there any defense against them? Yes? What? Peace!
At first, it may seem insensitive to answer the anxious heart so simply. But peace isn’t the removal of trouble. We’d have to step out of the world altogether to remove ourselves from conflict. Jesus acknowledged that fact when he told his disciples the world would give them a hard time. But hear his full statement: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus spoke more than once about the peace he would give. Some missionary Bible translators working among primitive tribesmen struggled to translate John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” There was no word for peace in the tribe’s language. At last, a native provided them with a combination of words that truly spoke to his people. The verse was rendered, “I will make your heart sit down.”
To the popping, bobbing, anxious heart, starting and jumping from its chair, Jesus offers peace—a heart that sits down, sits still.
Would such a heart interest you?
Where Peace Isn’t
First of all, we must properly define the term. The word peace (Hebrew, shalom; Greek, eirene) primarily means well-being, soundness, wholeness—when everything fits together properly. Think of a brick wall that won’t easily crumble or two pieces of fabric sewn together. The one who has peace “has it all together.” He won’t fall apart easily or fly apart at the seams.
Shalom doesn’t depend on circumstances. If it did, all we’d need would be to get away from it all periodically. I’m not saying a vacation won’t help, if properly planned. I know many, however, including me, who’ve found themselves harried and hurried on vacation, unable to rest, even anxious to get back home.
If peace depended on circumstances, Christmas would be just what the doctor ordered. What more can we ask than a twinkling tree and a friendly, popping fire? We’ve got our eggnog and beautiful carols. But something’s wrong. Something’s missing. What? Time, People, Money. And when Christmas is over, many are either relieved or depressed.
That’s because true peace doesn’t depend on circumstances. We can’t eat or drink our troubles away. We can’t go to the movies and watch our troubles away. Peace doesn’t come out of a bottle or a box. We can’t circle it on a calendar, put it in or take it out of the bank. Peace isn’t in the outside world. It’s in the inside person.
What’s out there? Frustration. Ask the businesswoman who broke the glass ceiling but pierced herself with grief over the loss of the family she can never have. Ask the celebrity who’s choking on fame. Sure, the world offers money, sex, and power. But try to build a solid, unshakeable soul with the world’s goods. What will we find? Frustration! For though we can buy all kinds of goods and services, iPods and iPads, every pleasure the mind wants and the body craves, we can’t buy peace. The world just doesn’t have the goods.
Where Peace Is
Let me show you a fellow of whom some would say, “He never knew a moment’s peace.” Indeed, if peace means only freedom from trouble and pain, they’d be right. He was beaten a couple times. An angry mob tried to rock him to sleep—with real rocks. He spent a lot of time in jail. Besides all this, he wasn’t a particularly healthy man. His eyes gave him problems. One day, sitting in jail with his eyes bothering him, he wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6, 7).
The man you’ve recognized as the apostle Paul didn’t receive preferential treatment from God or anybody. He lived in a violent world and he died a violent death. Yet he had found the thing so many safe, secure people will never find—peace. It wasn’t around Paul, but in him. He had discovered—and appropriated—the great truth that peace doesn’t depend on circumstances, but on Christ.
How do we do find his peace? The first thing we must do is find Jesus. We must recognize that we are shattered by sin and splintered by disobedience. The prophet Isaiah looked forward to a day when one would take our sins upon himself and restore harmony within us by restoring a right relationship with God: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
The general who would free us would ride not a tank but a cross into battle and sign the peace treaty in his own blood. The first question we must ask ourselves is, “Have we come to Jesus?” Have we yielded to him in faith, repentance, and baptism (Acts 2:38)?
Many have done these things, yet they’re as anxious as ever. Here, then, are two more questions to ask ourselves:
Am I making a serious effort to obey him in every area of my life? Sin is the great robber of peace and joy. From cover to cover, the Bible promises peace to those who obey.
Do I spend time with God? In Skye Jethani’s book, With (Thomas Nelson, 2011), the author writes about God’s great desire—to be with us. He also gives practical help in making “a personal relationship with Jesus” a daily reality.
Jethani writes about a slave in Maryland known as Praying Jacob. At regular intervals, he would stop his labor, rest quietly, and enter a personal “hush harbor” to commune with God. This enraged his master, a cruel man named Saunders. One day, while Jacob was kneeling in the field to pray, Saunders put a gun to his head. He demanded that he stop praying and get back to work.
Instead, Jacob finished his prayer. Then he said, “Your loss will be my gain. I have two masters—Master Jesus in Heaven, and Master Saunders on earth. I have a soul and a body; the body belongs to you, but my soul belongs to Jesus.” Saunders was so shaken that he never touched Jacob again.
In this world we’ll have trouble. We know it. So does Jesus. In this world the flames will rise, the bombs will fall. There’ll be trouble; there’ll be pain. But there’ll be Jesus, too. And the peace that he gives—if we want it.
Whatever my lot
Thou hast taught me to say
It is well
It is well with my soul!
Gary D. Robinson is a minister and freelance writer in Xenia. Ohio.
The admonition in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God,” sounds downright tantalizing. It speaks even more powerfully within the context of the chapter: God is working powerfully, and it’s chaotic: ”The mountains fall into the heart of the sea,” “Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.” This is the kind of deep-seated turmoil many of us know in our lives, the kind that makes us long to live out verse 10.
While many of us cling to the verse’s peaceful image, we fall short of realizing it fully in our daily lives. The reasons we fail are found in the verse: first, we just can’t seem to hold still; second, our hearts and minds don’t acknowledge that God is in control.
Reaping the peace that God gives us means changing the rhythms of our lives. Try these small changes to start sewing seeds of peace every day.
• Before you look at your “to do” list, sit still and pray.
• When you’re angry or flustered, take a breath and remember that God is in charge—then act like it.
• When you’re praying about something big, take a nap afterwards—what better way to show God you’re leaving it up to him?
• If you’re anxious, listen to your breathing. Let the rhythm calm you and remind you that God’s breath filled Adam’s lungs.