Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.
The XIVth Dalai Lama
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 NRSV
The Hebrew word for peace is ‘Shalom’. However, the word shalom has many facets to it. Shalom is more than the ‘absence of war’ – shalom envelopes our whole existence. Shalom is all about relationships; the relationship between people, the relationship to creation, and the relationship to God. If just one of these relationships is disturbed or broken, shalom, peace, is impossible.
For most of its history, the people of Israel did not have shalom because relationships even between its own people were broken. There were always those who would seek their own advantage and disregard the dignity and needs of the weaker ones, the poor, those without protection, like the orphan and the widow. The prophet Micah points out that peace with God is only possible if we ‘do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God’.
People haven’t changed much since the days of Micah. We may say in this part of the world that we live in relative peace, meaning the absence of war on our own territory – and those with friends or family members serving in the military probably or those affected by gun violence would object to the notion that we currently live in peace. The world, and that includes this country, is far from a state of ‘shalom’ in which everyone lives in a whole and healthy relationship to their neighbor, to the environment, and to God; many folks are not even at peace with themselves. Political, environmental and economic injustice is to be found everywhere. Many are taken advantage of by those who are stronger or more powerful.
As the current Dalai Lama points out: peace, lasting peace, peace that encompasses our whole existence, is more than the absence of war. Relationships need to be mended and tended to. The hungry need to be fed. Those without a home need shelter. The dignity of everyone and everything created lovingly by God must be protected. The freedom of conscience is essential.
It is one thing to wait and hope for the return of Christ and the coming of God’s peaceful kingdom, a reign of shalom, in which all relationships are restored. However, we are called to bring glimpses of God’s kingdom of shalom into this world. And what else does God require from us but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God?
Picture by Sunyu on unsplash.com