What is true peace?


Biblical “peace” (Hebrew shalom) is more than the absence of conflicts that we normally understand. It has a much richer content that no single English word can sufficiently render it. The cognate of the word generally signifies completeness and perfection, a condition in which nothing is lacking, a state of inner tranquility and content. In today’s Gospel reading, on the very night when Jesus gave His farewell gift of peace to His apostles, and the Cross had already hung above His head like the Damocles Sword; yet Jesus was at peace when He had every reason to be troubled (rf Jn 14:27-31). St Augustine described this peaceful state of Jesus as Tranquillitas Ordinis – the tranquility of order, that is, when everything falls in its proper place ordained by God (rf Book 19 Chapter 13 City of God). Jesus was at peace because He knew He was about to fulfill His Father’s will.

The Latin maxim “nemo dat quod non habet” (which means “no one can give what they do not have”) explains perfectly why Jesus can give peace to His disciples even in the midst of turmoil. As He Himself says, “. . . my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you (Jn 14:27). The peace of Jesus is different from the peace that the world offers because His comes from God the Father, the one who “has loved [Him] before the creation of the world” (Jn 17:24). Jesus the Son who deeply experiences this love of the Father, believes with certainty that He is still the Beloved in whatever trials He encounters – “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). Not only then is Jesus unaffectedly at peace, He is also able to give this peace to others because He possesses the source of peace and He is the Prince of Peace (rf Is 9:6).

Some people believe money can buy peace, but money depreciates. Some believe power can secure peace, but power is never irreplaceable. Others believe good health can bring peace, but good health is not everlasting. Still others believe where there is love there is peace, but worldly love is often selfish and broken. Biblical peace is not something we can create on our own. It depends neither on other persons nor by acquiring external things because it is not founded on temporary and changeable means. Only God can give true peace, the peace “which transcends all understanding” (Phil 4:7). It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (rf Gal 5:22, Rom 8:6; 14:7, Eph 4:3). Indeed, one of God’s name is Yahweh Shalom which means the Lord is Peace (rf Jgs 6:24).

As Christians, when we live a life of virtues and righteousness, we are in communion with God and God’s peace will come upon us. When we have peace with God, we have peace with ourselves. The important thing is, are we willing to share this peace with others? Do we have reconciliation and fellowship with others? (rf 1 Jn 1:7). Do we live with others in unity through the bonds of peace? (rf Eph 4:3). Are we willing to be peacemakers with our neighbours, friends and even foes just as what Jesus has done on the cross?

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May Tam

 
May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)


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