How would you define the word “peace”? When most people think of peace, the first idea that comes to mind is the opposite of war—the absence of fighting. In other words, peace is for many a negation—a lack of something bad, sort of a blank slate indicating not much else except the possibility of a fresh start. You get a glimpse of this view of peace from the feeling a sunrise or sunset stirs in you. But peace is much more than a feeling or lack of conflict. There is a reason why the Bible’s words for peace—shalom in Hebrew and eirene in Greek—are carried over into English as greetings and names of ministries. But the reason is not always obvious.
Many universal human longings we take for granted. Love, belonging, righteousness, work, and rest. These all lie close to our hearts and are unavoidable. Others lie under the surface or function like the air we breathe. Peace is that kind of longing. It’s rare for people’s hearts to ache for peace and human flourishing until war, hardship, alienation, oppression, or other aching frustrations wake us up to our profound need for deep and lasting peace. Perhaps the best way to grasp what I mean by this kind of peace is by tapping into your imagination. Try this: what do you wish out of life for your great-grandchildren: people you love but may never know. Your answers are likely very similar to everyone else’s. Unless you wish for them world domination or to win the lottery jackpot, I bet you imagine things like happiness, freedom, health and prosperity, good education, a safe neighborhood, marriage and family, friends, time for leisure and recreation, community service, devotion to God, a vibrant church. Those are what peace looks like. But peace is also allusive. Whether you pursue it alone or in cooperation with others, hard-won gains seem like sand slipping through your fingers. Just when you get a glimpse that life is truly beautiful, Murphy’s Law comes crashing down, reminding you this world is profoundly out of step with the way things ought to be. Are we doomed to this cycle of life’s frustrations, crying out “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace? Is it even rational to long for peace, or are we just deluding ourselves? Is it responsible and realistic to just steer clear of the stubborn problems “out there” and salvage a measure of comfort for our individual lives, homes, families, and neighborhoods?
This passage in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 34, verses 11-31 provides us answers to these perplexing questions. What will it show us? That the LORD will rescue his lost people and shepherd them in justice as their healer, protector, provider, and ever-present God. You can only experience the kind of soul peace that buttresses human flourishing and sustains you through times of trouble by reconciliation with God through Christ the Good Shepherd. Continue reading