I grew up in the church. My father is a pastor and a missionary, my grandfather was a pastor and a missionary, and my great grandfather was a pastor and a missionary. So going to church was non-negotiable in my family of origin. Growing up in the church, I heard a lot about peace. And peace is a wonderful thing – peace with God, peace with others, the absence of war, etc. All of these are great and wonderful things and not to be taken lightly. But I have recently learned that peace is only part of the story of the Scriptures.
If your Bible is like mine, the Hebrew word Shalom is usually translated as “Peace”. And that is true – but only technically. Translating Shalom as Peace is like saying the Biltmore is just a house, or the Grand Canyon is just a big ditch – technically true but grossly misleading because it fails to communicate the magnitude of the reality.
Shalom is such a huge Hebrew concept that we need a dozen English words to capture its true meaning. Here is the list assembled from a handful of commentaries:
- Welfare &
The fundamental idea of Shalom is not just peace. The idea here is health and safety in mind, body & estate. Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness & delight. Another way of thinking about Shalom is: THE WAY THINGS OUGHT TO BE.
Shalom is a rich, full word. So rich in fact, you could almost consider Shalom to be a worldview in and of itself. And once you begin to see how big Shalom really is, it radically changes some pretty important passages in scripture.
Here are a couple of examples:
The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make his face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His Countenance upon you, and give you SHALOM.
– Numbers 6:23-26
For Solomon had dominion over all the region on this side the river … over all the kings on this side the river: and he had SHALOM on all sides round about him.
– 1 Kings 4:24-25
Seek the SHALOM of the city (Babylon) where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its SHALOM you will find your SHALOM.
– Jeremiah 29:7
Each of these is a sermon in itself. Which I will spare you. But take the list of English words above and plug them into a few of those verses. Some really interesting things start to jump out.
- “the Lord give you abundance & prosperity”
- “Solomon had harmony & rest on all sides round about him”
- “seek the health & welfare of Babylon”
In all of these passages, God is clearly talking about peace. But what if God wasn’t only talking about peace? What if he was talking about flourishing, wholeness, perfection and delight?
So many of us are quick to assume the Bible is a spiritual book that only talks about spiritual things. And it is a spiritual book. But the subjects addressed in scripture are as practical as they are spiritual. In fact, the original hearers of the scriptures made no distinction between the practical and the spiritual. These spiritual truths were only viewed as spiritual because they were practical. Yet over the centuries of Christian thought and literature, we have lost so much of the practicality of the Scriptures.
In an age of antagonistic, false dichotomies – democrat/republican, Christian/pagan, capitalist/socialist – we can learn a great deal from the ancient wisdom of two-handed thinking. Two handed thinking encourages us to accept and hold two concepts in tension with each other. It is both/and thinking, not either/or thinking. Shalom is a great example because it is both deeply spiritual and deeply practical.