Monday, December 21, 2015

Delighting in the Peace of God

“We need to talk.”

These words alarm me every time. I run through a list of offenses I may have caused, possible misunderstandings, or snubs. I wonder if I forgot a birthday, broke trust, or badmouthed their favorite celebrity (Sorry, T-Swizzle). I assume the worst, and warm up my defense mechanisms.

Ironically, these conversations rarely result in confrontation. Usually someone wants advice on how to share Jesus with a gay cousin or my view on handguns. Nevertheless, I always enter “we need to talk” talks with an aim to make peace (see Romans 12:18). For it is a virtue hard to win, high in price, and broken at the slightest violation.

While I know some folks thrive on drama, I tend to agree with St. Augustine’s sentiment about people going to war for the sake of peace. Human nature longs for concord (his word, not mine) with God and nature, self and neighbor. Conflict, whether interpersonal or international, aims for a better outcome. “For every man seeks peace by waging war, but no man seeks war by making peace,” he wrote in the City of God. “For even they who intentionally interrupt the peace in which they are living have no hatred of peace, but only wish it changed into a peace that suits them better.”

While Augustine does not define the peace of God in any certain terms – a peace with the apostle Paul says “surpasses understanding” – he does call peace“a good so great, that even in this earthly and moral life there is no word we hear with such pleasure, nothing we desire with such zest, or find to be more thoroughly gratifying.” Peace defines “joyful” and “harmonious” relationships in the “celestial city.” It is a peace God himself enjoys, for peace emanates from the Trinity.

So when I delight in the peace of God, I am delighting in God himself. The perfectly choreographed love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comes to imperfect humans. We who have offended God with our rebel hearts and stiff necks, have received from Him mercy and grace, rather than terms of surrender. Jesus did the surrendering, and “made peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

God stopped a war in which I joined from birth as an accomplice. He issued the cease fire in my stead, stretching out his Son’s body on the cross as a tattered, white and crimson flag. Then, in an act of triumph, the risen Jesus took captive the rebel army and turned them into warring saints (see Ephesians 4:7-16). His enemies became allies to stand firm against the schemes of the devil, meanwhile declaring “the mystery hidden for age” of the gospel to the “rulers and authorities in heavenly place” (Eph. 3:10-11).

Indeed, the peace of God goes beyond a cease fire. In a remarkable change of allegiance, Jesus redeems rebels and puts them into service as worshippers. “We need not be at odds with God,” the peace of God proclaims.

When we accept these terms of peace with God, we can carry on… calmly. For when experience harmony with God, we may learn to be at peace with ourselves and others. The battle with our bodies and minds, brothers and sisters, culture and environment need not paralyze us with fear or grip us with despair. 

Rather, we can delight in the peace of God - announced by angels and embodied in Jesus on that first Christmas - and extend it to others, especially those who "need to talk." 

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