Note: This post is an extended version of the comments I made at church a couple weeks ago.
Many of us have heard of the “peace that transcends all understanding,” from one of the most famous snippets of the New Testament: “and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds…” (Philippians 4:7)
But I don’t know that we have a realistic conception of what that “peace” is. It’s not “peace and quiet,” as we often think in English. Not an inner calm, well not directly, anyhow. It can overlap with “peace and quiet,” because if you’re at peace, you’re not in turmoil. But most of the time in the Bible, when you read “peace,” it usually refers to something slightly different than “peace and quiet.”
Peace and Not Quiet
What is peace? Peace is the opposite of war. Not “peace and quiet,” but “peace and prosperity.” It is physical and emotional health. Peace is Shalom. It is fulfillment, completeness, wholeness, welfare. It is family, friendship, community, security. Peace is having your needs met.
… even in the midst of distress. That’s the “peace that transcends all understanding.” How can your needs be met if you’re in the middle of a distressing situation?
Remember the story of Paul and Silas in prison, in Acts 16?
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. (Acts 16:22-26)
Having been humiliated, physical abused, and now imprisoned, they decided to sing. Nothing quiet about that. And as the story goes, a violent earthquake shook the prison, and the building literally started to come apart, and the prisoners’ chains came loose. That’s peace.
That said, let’s return to the quote about “peace that transcends understanding”:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to G-d. And the peace of G-d, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice. And the G-d of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9)
Peace and Forgiveness
As I recall, Max Malikow said something profound at a talk he gave decades ago, the gist of which has stuck with me till this day. And I’ve formed my view of forgiveness around it.
To forgive does not mean that you forget. Rather, it means that you are no longer bitter. You no longer demand retribution for wrongs done against you. It does not necessarily mean you trust the wrongdoer not to wrong you again. Forgiveness is given freely; trust is still earned. If someone steals from me, forgiveness means I wish him health and prosperity and all the best life has to offer. It does not mean I ask him to housesit.
Forgiveness brings peace. It means I am no longer at war with those who have wronged me. Forgiveness is unconditional, does not demand retribution for past wrongs but unilaterally lets the other party off the hook. Therefore, rather than feeling sad, angry, and depressed about my own perceived losses, I can focus on those things that make me happy. And happy is good. Moreover, it gives us a chance to reconcile, even if we can no longer work together.
I firmly believe Yeshua and the Apostles endorsed this brand of unconditional peace, and I think they were right.
Dad wrote something similar about peace, the fruit of the spirit (from Galatians 5:22ff), in Jots & Tittles:
If the turmoil of guilt has been calmed by forgiveness; if the nightmare of yesterday’s mistakes, the traumatic hurts of the past, have somehow been reconciled; if you can somehow learn to hug again, learn to recognize kindness for what it really is, with no attached strings or hidden agenda; somehow, if you can learn to accept others and be accepted by them, this is peace!
One Final Thought
I want to share with you one of my favorite prayers from the Jewish liturgy, called Sim Shalom, or in English, “Bring peace.” I posted last winter about a song based on Sim Shalom.
Sim Shalom is the last blessing of the Amidah, the “Standing Prayer,” because it is recited while standing. This prayer for peace is part of the final group of blessings of the Amidah, which thank God and focus on the hope we have in him.
(And if you heard me speak and sing last week, you may remember echoes of this blessing in my closing prayer.)
שִׂים שָׁלוֹם טוֹבָה וּבְרָכָהָ חֵן וָחֶסֶד וְרַחֲמִים
עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּך
Grant peace, goodness, and blessing, grace and lovingkindness and compassion,
to us and to all Israel your people.
ָבָּרְכֵנוּ אָבִינוּ כֻּלָנוּ כְּאֶחָד בְּאוֹר פָּנֶיך
Bless us, our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Your face.
ּכִי בְאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ נָתַתָּ לָנוּ יְיָ אֶלוֹהֵינו
תּוֹרַת חַיִּים וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד
וּצְדָקָה וּבְרָכָה וְרַחֲמִים וְחַיִּים וְשָׁלוּם
For by the light of your face, You have given us, O Lord our God,
the Torah of life, and love of kindness,
and righteousness, and blessing, and compassion, and life, and peace.
וְטוֹב בְעֵינֶיךָ לְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרַאֵלָ
בְּכָל עֵת וּבְכָל שָׁעָה בִּשְׁלוֹמֶך
And may it be good in your eyes to bless Your people Israel,
at every time, and in every hour, with Your peace.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ הַמְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּשָּׁלוֹם
Blessed are You, O Lord, who blesses His people Israel with peace.
And finally, we close with:
עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו
הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל
He who makes peace in His high places,
may he make peace for us and all Israel,
and let us say, “Amen.”