Ask a Westerner to define “peace,” and chances are they’ll say something to the tune of “no more fighting.” Webster would agree. The dictionary definition of peace is “freedom from civil disturbance; a state of security or order within a community; harmony in personal relations.”
There’s a reason we view peace primarily as an absence of conflict. The word itself has a fascinating history. It comes from the Latin pax, which was the Roman goddess of peace. When Augustus came to power, he built his political empire around pax. He raised statues and ordered that she be worshipped. He minted coins with his face on one side, and an image of pax on the other – the idea being that Augustus alone could bring peace. How? Through military brutality. Through the power of the emperor to defeat every foreign threat and usher in the era of the Pax Romana, the Roman peace.
The political and militaristic overtures of our English definition of “peace” run down to its very roots. An ironic history of violence. The problem is not that our western understanding of peace is inaccurate. The problem is that it’s too small. To define peace as “not fighting” is like defining love as “not killing.” It’s not wrong; it’s just woefully insufficient.
The Jewish people had a richer perspective of peace. They didn’t see it merely as the absence of conflict, but as the presence of beauty, abundance, wholeness, and completion. To them, peace was shalem, the root word for Jerusalem (the “City of Peace”), and the word from which we derive the Hebrew shalom.
Put simply, shalem is the fullness of God. In Ephesians 3:18-19, Paul prays that the believers in Ephesus may have strength together with all the saints to grasp the depth of Christ’s love – a love which defies knowledge – so that they may be “filled with all the fullness of God.” Interestingly, Paul isn’t urging them to be independently whole, but rather, to experience the fullness of God within the broader context of the church – “together with all the saints,” or we could say, the people of God.
We won’t grasp the fullness of God’s power or the depth of His love, living in isolation. We were made to experience these things together with God’s holy people. But how do we know a love that transcends knowledge? This is an experiential knowing, akin to David’s cry in Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”
I believe that over the next few years people need to be hearing about the fullness of God. They need to know that God has more and better for them. I would love for people in Central Florida to hear “Grace Church” and think “help.” I’d love for them to know that if their life is unraveling, there’s a place where they can find biblical teaching and healing.
No matter how we define peace, at the end of the day, we’re longing for more than just an absence of conflict. In counseling, when a couple has stopped fighting because they just don’t care anymore, it’s not a sign of peace. It’s a sign the marriage is over. The absence of conflict isn’t the goal of a marriage, church, society, or an individual’s private life. The goal is shalem. It’s belonging. Virtue. Vulnerability. Trust. Completion. Blessing. Connection. Anticipation and satisfaction. It’s the fullness of God for which we were created.
Imagine an entire city of Christians who lived the more beautiful story of shalem. Who didn’t just tell people to stop cheating or drinking, but who pointed them in the direction of Jesus. A city of Christians who – united – grasped not only the power of God but the surpassing love of Christ, and poured that love – the very fullness of God – over every single person they met. The whole city would be changed. The whole world would be changed.