I'm continually perplexed by the elusiveness of peace in my own life, and I see those around me facing the same struggle and asking the same questions. This is especially taxing for those who have faith in God because He says a lot about peace and how Christians are supposed to have it. Why the immense gap between what is promised and our experience? Is God letting us down or are we doing something wrong?
The World's Peace
John 14:27 presents words from Jesus that have simultaneously comforted and haunted me: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid."
The first question this causes me to ask is, "What kind of peace does the world give?" The world's version of peace is the removal of discomfort, resolution of problems, and changed circumstances. We lack peace about our finances and think we will have it when we have paid off a debt or been able to afford the house of our dreams. We lack peace about a relationship and think it will come when that person goes away or changes the way we want them to. This even applies to more minor moments in our day- we lack peace when we feel bored so we look down at our phones for a shot of entertainment, news, or connection with another person. This is embodied in the sentence we all say in our hearts- "I would be happy if...."
This creates an unending and never satisfied desire for peace. Why? Because I have never met anyone who is completely happy with all aspects of their life or circumstances. Even those we would envy most carry unfulfilled dreams and desires. So if we adopt this definition of peace, we will never find it, and will be continually frustrated and looking for the next band aid that will provide at least temporary peace. This kind of thinking is how addictions develop, how greed and materialism consume us, and how we become slaves to instant gratification. It can also lead to deep depression and crippling anxiety when the hoped for source of peace is late in arriving or never comes at all.
The second, inevitable question is, "How is God's peace different?" What I have realized recently is that when I think about God and peace, I am asking the wrong questions. I have bought into the world's idea of peace. I ask, "Why isn't God working? Why has He forgotten me? When will this end?" Wrong questions. This is not God's idea of peace or the kind He wants to give to me, so He is not going to resolve my problems instantly or give me what I think I need.
This is why we become troubled and afraid, because we sense that we will never have what we think we need and that God is unwilling to give it to us or else has somehow forgotten us or is punishing us.
The question that points us in the right direction is, "How could God be working in this situation and what is He trying to teach me?" God's primary concern is that we grow in holiness, that we mature, and that we become more and more like Jesus. This is challenging, but if we come to believe it, we will have no reason to become troubled or afraid, or to buy into the notion that we need a quick fix. I find it strangely comforting to realize that God isn't hanging His hopes on whether I can ever afford a nice house, because it means I don't have to either.
Non Christian approaches to therapy have caught a kernel of this truth. There is a growing theoretical approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which emphasizes the ability to be in the present and accept it non judgmentally. Existential approaches have long challenged people to accept the reality of pain and death as well as the importance of individual responsibility. The existentialist will not allow you to blame other people or circumstances for your lack of peace, it is your responsibility and yours alone. These are helpful departures from peace as the world gives, but they still fall short. How do we truly accept the reality of our situation without faith in the God? This is the God revealed in Scripture who repeatedly talks of his love and care for us, of His continual work in us and plans for us both in the present and eternity.
We have peace not in acceptance or calm detachment. Not in taking control of our fate. Not in getting what we think we need.
Peace is not the end of problems or pain, but rather the acceptance of God's activity and purpose in and through them. It is cultivating a spirit of gratefulness that God does not leave us alone, that He is close, so close that He died for us.
"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed." Isaiah 53:5