Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, 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 God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:7-9)
A reflection on the peace of God may commence with the concept of ‘woundedness’.
I come from a wounded society – Sri Lanka. Over three decades of war and violence in post-colonial Sri Lanka has severely affected our psychology, social fabric and ecology. In 2009 the war came to an end, yet peace has not come to my country. The end of the war has not brought peace or prosperity. We as a nation remain a wounded community. People’s lives need to be re-built, healed and reconciled.
Reconciliation is what is not happening. The state seems to think that the building of the infrastructure would bring normalcy to the community. But people’s lives have not been touched or moved. The woundedness remains as a daily matter. There is no clear approach to truth and reconciliation except for a few isolated yet significant cases initiated by some good and concerned persons. Such reconciliation efforts are very vulnerable and are even misunderstood most of the time.
In the Theological College of Lanka where I served nearly for nearly 15 years, we make an intentional effort to be a reconciled community where Sinhalese and Tamil theological students live together for three to four years in a residential community in Pilimatalawa, Sri Lanka. We try to create a ‘safe space’ to share our stories – stories of pain and agony, stories of hopes and dreams for a better world.
In a certain way, we all are wounded.
Look at the world! We are a broken community: see our own broken selves, wounded families, wounded communities, wounded academies, broken and divided churches, wounded nations, and the wounded international community. There is a global woundedness and most surely, we know that God’s creation is heavily wounded.
Mission of peace and healing
Paul’s exposition to the Philippians expounds what is required for peace and healing. First, we must understand what peace is not: the world says not to worry, there is peace – “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).
There was a bogus and false peace at the time when Paul spoke to the Philippians. It was called the ‘Pax Romana’ – the peace of the empire, peace that had been obtained by the victories of war, military power that kept order and made sure that countries gave no trouble, there were no riots, and no uprisings … so they called it peace. In today’s context we can reflect on the ‘Pax of modern empires’ (you name it!)
Over against this Pax Romana Paul suggests another kind of peace – the ‘peace of God’, the only peace that Paul knew. The world did not know this peace.
‘Peace of God’
This peace in the Judeo-Christian scriptural tradition is called ‘Shalom’. Shalom means wholeness, fullness, and it is life-giving and life-enhancing. Shalom includes the whole person and the community, humanity and creation, little life to all life.
Let me share three important aspects of God’s peace (Shalom).
The first aspect speaks of evenness of heart and mind, an unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset by worldly gains and losses, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. It is indifferent only to the demands of the self with its craving for pleasure and position, not the well-being of one's fellow human beings. In Buddhist spirituality this aspect of peace is called upekkha (equanimity) that includes boundless loving-kindness, compassion, and altruistic joy.
Secondly, the peace of God essentially involves justice: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). There is no peace without justice. “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). In other words, the peace of God means nothing but the justice of God. Paul speaks of a different culture based on justice.
The fundamental cause of most of the conflicts and violence that we experienced in the last century and through the beginning of the first two decades of the 21st century is the quest for justice. Without addressing the root causes of injustice and wickedness, there cannot be peace in the society, nor peace in the hearts of the peoples.
The third dimension of God’s peace is reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation go together. Forgiveness is not forgetting everything. Forgiveness means that we remember the past but yet we will have a new life that is forgiven and forgiving. This is a hard task. That is why reconciliation always becomes a costly affair.
Peace in the heart, justice and reconciliation – all at the same time – is called God’s Shalom. God is creating this Shalom, and “blessed are the artisans of peace, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Paul speaks of that peace of God that surpasses all human understanding and keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). This is a prayer. It means that the Shalom of God should guard our hearts and minds. This is related to formation – formation of our character, formation of our communities. And while this is happening, Paul wishes that the God of Peace be with us always.
God of Peace – as we continue this reflection we can think of the characteristics of God. God is self-giving, self-emptying and self-sacrificing. We cannot think of a God who empowers unless we think of a God of Justice. We always think of a God who is ever reconciling.
We are wounded but we are also the healers. Our mission is to be wounded healers and broken reconcilers in the world. This is the hope. While recognizing that we are wounded persons and communities, we cannot stop there, but we must go beyond that and become engaged with the woundedness in the world. We are called to be wounded healers for ourselves, for communities and for nations to bring healing, reconciliation and wholeness of life.
The God of Peace empowers all of us to bring the peace of God wherever we are called to serve.
Christian communities and Christin missions certainly can play a leading role in peace, healing and reconciliation.