Thursday, September 29, 2005

My Peace I Give You

Today I will conclude in peace my reflections on the fourteenth chapter of John. Jesus said that his parting gift would be peace. But I wrote some time ago that Jesus said He came to bring not peace but a sword. How can we understand this? Can these two statements be reconciled?

The key to understanding these sayings on peace is this: “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). When Jesus said that He came not to bring peace, He was talking about peace as understood in a worldly sense, i.e., absence of strife or conflict. He knew that his word would create opposition between those who would receive it and those who wouldn’t, but the truth has to be embraced even at the price of the superficial “peace” of religious relativism. So even now, as He says He does give peace, it is still “not as the world gives,” but it is rather his peace. What does this mean?

He gives us a hint at the end of the verse: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” So his peace is that which removes inner turmoil and fear. The peace of Christ may not remove all external conflicts or threats, but it communicates confidence and hope even in the midst of them. The peace of Christ is the “I am with you,” the “I will never forsake you,” of which the Scriptures frequently remind us. It is a rootedness in the transcendent serenity of the age to come, which at the same time enables us to act wisely and decisively in the present age. When this peace is firmly established within us, it doesn’t matter much if there is unrest around us. Lack of tranquility is the usual state of a fallen world, so we can’t expect to calm all troubled waters (though it is still important to work even for outer peace, especially when we see the horrors of war and hateful aggression). But we can be rooted in the One who gives steadfast assurance that all manner of things shall be well, when we walk in his word and will. There will never be peace in the world if there is not first peace—Jesus’ peace—in human hearts.

I have wondered how people who have no faith in God can stand to live in this world. When tragedies or random misfortunes visit them, they desperately search for something or someone to blame for their unredressed afflictions. Rage and grief consume them, and if they do think of God, it is only with reproaches for not having preserved them from misfortune, so that they could have continued their illusory existence, ignoring or rejecting Him. They look for peace as the world gives, but the world gives it not, and the world cares not for them in their distress. They have no Rock, no Anchor, no Beacon in the night saying, “Courage, beloved, do not fear; I am with you; your reward will be great in Heaven.”

Peace often comes at a price. It’s not just a relaxing, soothing feeling, an insulation from the demanding struggles of a righteous life. Peace may begin with a call to repentance, with some spiritual surgery on our bad habits or attitudes. But once we have that peace, as Jesus gives it, we will wonder how we ever survived without it. Our souls will be like the depths of a great ocean, which remains ever still, even while a storm disturbs the surface. That is because we are anchored in eternity, connected with the Source of eternal life, and our confidence in Him gives us superior strength in any struggle we are called to endure.

“I will come back for you.” His promise is still good. We have his peace while we await Him. Don’t look to the world for peace; you will only be disappointed. Remember that clever but true saying: “No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace.” He will never forsake us, and when at length He returns, we’ll rejoice that we held fast our confidence.