If you’re anything like me the constant drip of depressing news we are almost forced to endure every time we look at the internet or open a newspaper, has a negative effect on the way we think and see the world around us. Such is the draw of this negativity that sometimes I even find myself searching for more of the same and listening to the ‘experts’ who are predicting coming hardship, societal breakdown and, ultimately, an almost demonic control of all we are and do.
Last week appears to have been a particularly bad week for such negativity – and at times a measure of anxiety, concern and even depression over all we hear and see is not surprising.
Once or twice last week I came away from reading one article or other, or having listened to a particularly pessimistic forecast of the future, to hear, on more than one occasion, that ‘still small voice’ repeating the words ‘Let not your heart be troubled.’
I think today, perhaps more than at any time in my life, I need to hear that. Not simply the words of course – but the reality that undergirds them – the foundation upon which such a statement stands.
When I think of the circumstances in which that statement was originally made – it is even more surprising. The nation in which the speaker lived was under foreign occupation and partisans and political opponents to the prevailing power were being executed regularly. Corruption was rife both in society and religion – and that religion and its leaders very often worked hand in glove with the political authorities. And yet this man could say to a society and people living in fear, turmoil and uncertainty – ‘Let not your heart be troubled.’ Indeed the man who said this was about to lose the few friends he had left and be himself arrested and put to death in one of the most horrible and painful ways ever invented by the public executioner. Yet he could still say – ‘The time is coming — indeed it’s here now — when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:32-33 NLT)
Really! Even in the middle of our greatest trials and sorrows, our fear of the future and regrets of the past – and even in the face of death itself we can still have peace? It sounds so implausible, so unbelievable – so unnatural.
The statement Jesus makes here in very significant. For one thing he says this – ‘I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me.’ True peace in not an abstract, unconnected experience – it is rooted primarily in a relationship – a relationship founded in the unconditional love of God.
The truth is that God has and is always seeking to bring peace to the lives of individuals and communities. There are very few books in the Bible that do not speak of peace. The foundational importance of this can, for instance, be seen in God’s statement through the Torah Prophet Malachi – ‘The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them.’
So the gift of peace is at the very centre of God’s agenda – it is not some added extra – a bonus for good behaviour – but at the very core of what God is and what he longs to share with us. Even King David – a man who had a price on his head more than once, could say – ‘In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.’ (Psalm 4). And therein lies one of the great secrets – peace comes from resting in the protection, goodness, love and ongoing mercy and grace of God. I think we need to hear this today – I know I do. God is, by very definition, the God of Peace, as we see mirrored in the mysterious Christ like character Melchizedek, King of Salem found in the book of Genesis and taken up by the writer of the book of Hebrews, who informs us – ‘The name Melchizedek means “king of justice,” and king of Salem means “king of peace”.’ Ah – a God of peace and justice!
It is not without significance that almost every greeting or salutation used by the writers of the New Testament involves invoking or praying for the peace (Shalom in Hebrew) of those to whom they write. Peace is at the very heart of their message – and should be also of those who claim to be followers of the Prince of Peace today.
And yet a world that has both rejected, abandoned and killed God has, by default, removed itself from the realm and experience of ultimate peace – the peace only He can give. Because it is only in an abandonment to the One who is totally Other yet immanent, available, perceivable and compassionate that we can know true peace.
So how do we come, practically, to gain this elusive peace? Like any battle I suppose it comes through surrender – surrender not to the forces of fear or manipulation but a surrender to Love himself. And it is in that surrender that millions before us have known the reality of the promise still available to each one of us –
I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. (Jesus)