Peace. Rest. Quietness and Trust.
We’re told in the Bible that peace will guard our hearts and minds. We’re instructed to let it rule in our hearts. We’re told to strive to enter His rest. Women in particular are encouraged to cultivate a “quiet and gentle spirit”.
But what actually is it? Peace as the absence of conflict we are somewhat familiar with, but the mere absence of declared wars is not the same as the absence of hostility. We despise Neville Chamberlain’s shortsightedness in making a deal with evil to purchase a brief moment of “Peace in our time”. In the modern world of Islamic State terrorists and threats to our very way of life, we wonder whether peace, if it is even possible, is all it’s cracked up to be.
Or we praise “peace and quiet”, while busying ourselves about our frenetic lives, desperately craving a few moments in which we don’t feel obligated to keep doing. Everybody’s working for the weekend.
The Hebrew idea of shalom is, of course, far broader in concept than even our widest modern conceptions. At base, the idea is one of wholeness, of completion. More than the absence of war, it’s the presence of healing. Justice for the nations. A soundness and healthiness in our dealings with ourselves and others.
This is no cowardly “peace in our time”, purchased with a squandered future. Real peace is built with mercy and equity on a foundation of justice. As one of my children’s videos puts it “the best way to destroy your enemy is to turn them into a friend”.
It takes more courage to do that than to shoot them. Attacking them seems sometimes like a response of fear rather than bravery. Sowing the seeds of justice and grace is the only way to produce a harvest of peace.
Wholeness is more than “peace and quiet”, too. Though much can be said in our hectic lives for the restorative power of just stopping for a while, how can peace be said to “guard our hearts and minds” if we lose it the moment we step back into busyness. We have to function in the world; though we are not machines, we are designed to to real things with real purpose. Even before the Fall, Adam and Eve had work to do in tending the Garden. What is this mysterious peace that comes with us into the busyness as a guardian for our heart and mind?
This kind of peace, this wholeness, this shalom, is perhaps best described as a sort of “centredness”. Like Christ washing the disciples’ feet, we know precisely who we are, because we know precisely Whose we are. We’re complete in Him, with no need to prove anything to anybody. No more fighting to prove ourselves to the world, no struggling for anyone’s approval. Shalom. At rest and complete in the One who died for us.
In this peace, we can dare any deed that we see the Father doing. We can challenge any wrong, bring justice where there is none, show mercy to the least. We aren’t doing it because we have something to prove, or as if the doing will somehow make us worthy of the grace already given to us, but simply, as Jesus, because it’s what we see Him doing. Here is a wrong, and He has put it into my heart to make it right.
Personally, I have a suspicion that it’s far more this sort of thing that the Scripture means by “a quiet and gentle spirit”, when the Apostle Peter gives that instruction to wives, than the meekly submissive surface-peace we sometimes try to make it.
I married a strong woman with a sometimes forceful personality. I refuse to believe that God somehow made her wrong when He formed her this way. I do not for a moment believe that she’s somehow defective because she doesn’t look like your awful submissive little yes-woman. Blecch! If I’d wanted a wife like that, I never would have fallen so gloriously in love with my wife.
She’s talked of numerous instances in her past of people looking askance at her, as if she’s somehow less Christian because she’s got both brains and guts, and doesn’t do well in the typically feminine “encouragement card” territory.
If you want someone to tell you saccharine platitudes while you continue to live out your life, my wife is not it. But if you want someone who will tell you the truth and be damned where the chips lie, she’s your woman. It’s wonderful! It’s exactly what I needed, and still need. Almost as if God somehow knew. Hmmm…
She’s been given more problems by well-meaning Christian teachers throwing this “quiet and gentle spirit” verse at her than is reasonable.
But what if this “quiet and gentle spirit” has more to do with the centredness of shalom and of not having to win the approval of man than it does with the easy-to-control submissiveness of outward demeanour?
It seems a lot more reasonable to me that it would. Peter is, after all, talking about an attribute of the spirit, not of the outward person.
Peace, wholeness, shalom. Guarding our heart and mind from the tendency to want to win approval or prove ourselves or work for what is freely given. For men or women, this is desperately needed if we are to be the people the Lord has made us to be.
This peace to you.