Participants in Peace

"Shalom" - Raquel Egosi
One of my favorite biblical terms is “shalom.” Peace. Wholeness. Unity. The complexity of creation and diversity in a mystery of collaboration. Shalom expresses God’s heart for this world, and thus the heart of Christianity in the world as we are bearers of the “shalom of Christ” (Col. 3:15).

To recognize and strive for shalom is a worthy endeavor for anyone, particularly in a world rife with conflict and disunity. We know shalom mainly by its absence.

It’s interesting to see different ways we can describe how shalom is to be realized in our world.

For some, seeking shalom is the primary task of humanity, a hallmark of following the way of Jesus as we faithfully live out our call to be peacemakers (Mt. 5:9). Made in God’s image, our task is to extend shalom in all we do. Shalom is primarily about us.

For others, the perfect peace of shalom is solely God’s doing, beyond our ability to achieve as ones prone more to sin than shalom. Peace is always a gift of God’s work. Israel, after all, only experienced shalom in the context of God’s deliverance from Egypt and the blessing of the promised land. The blessed life was one which received the gift of shalom (Nm. 6:26). Shalom is primarily about God.

Both examples are right. But by themselves, both examples are incomplete. They accept the tendency to overemphasize one or the other - either God’s role or our role. And sadly, such distinctions only fuel the polarizations among Christians.

Another one of my favorite theological terms is “participation.” It can help in how we understand the “how” of shalom. We share in - participate! - the seeking of shalom in our world. Participation implies a togetherness, a partnership - we are “co-workers” with God (1 Cor. 3:9). It reflects our fellowship with God and others (1 Jn. 1:1-4). We aren’t alone. God isn’t alone. Thus where we are prone to distinction - God
or us - the reality of participation refuses such a choice. Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff sums it up well:

“Shalom is both God’s cause in the world and our human calling. Even though the full incursion of shalom into our history will be divine gift and not merely human achievement, even though its episodic incursion into our lives now also has a dimension of divine gift, nonetheless it is shalom that we are to work and struggle for. We are not to stand around, hands folded, waiting for shalom to arrive. We are workers in God’s cause, his peace-workers. The misso Dei is our mission.” (Quoted by Mark Gornik in To Live in Peace)

God. Humanity. Participants in peace.

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