BRINGING SHALOM INTO THE WORLD
By Brian Sullivan, Head of School at Maranatha Christian Academy (Brooklyn Park, MN)
From the very beginning, God has had a plan for a cohesive harmonious creation. The first humans lived completely integrated lives: They cared for one another and took care of God’s creation. Complete harmony and universal flourishing characterized humanity’s experiences with God, themselves, and the rest of creation. Those first humans enjoyed their work and it had great meaning: It was the means by which they maintained and expanded upon what the Bible calls “shalom”.
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., in his book, “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be” defines shalom for us: “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. In English we call it peace, but it means far more than just peace of mind or ceasefire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as the creator and savior opens doors and speaks welcome to the creatures in whom He delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things are supposed to be.”
Ahh…The way it is supposed to be. This concept sounds so good…sounds so right. Unfortunately, it also sounds pie-in-the-sky. Our modern experience of shalom is fleeting and infrequent, and that can be very frustrating.
The Bible explains that because of the rebellion of humanity against God’s good intention for our lives, shalom is not the norm anymore. Instead of work consistently being done for the flourishing of all, work is often just a means to their ends, and in many cases, sinful ends. Natural gifts that should be fruitfully employed to satisfy the needs of others are now so often selfishly used to meet our own desires. Instead of seeking the flourishing of humans as well as the non-human creation, we, far too often, use people and resources for our own advantage.
In another book, “Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living”, Plantinga explains “We might define evil as any spoiling of shalom; any deviation from the way God wants things to be. Thinking along these lines, we can see that sin is a subset of evil; it’s any evil for which somebody is to blame – sin is culpable evil…Sin grieves God, offends God, betrays God, and not just because God is touchy. God hates sin against Himself, against neighbors, against the good creation; because sin breaks the peace…God is for shalom and therefore against sin.”
Our current experience with work is indeed not the way it is supposed to be. God knows it, and fortunately, God is doing something about it through Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote in Colossians, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. (Col. 1:19-20)
When an Israelite read the word, “peace” in that passage, he would have thought immediately of the concept of shalom. Jesus, “the Prince of shalom,” reconciles all things back to God, creating once again the opportunity for universal flourishing. And, amazingly, He invites us, His followers, to participate in the re-establishment of shalom.
When the people of God found themselves exiled in the evil nation of Babylon, God commanded them to do something quite shocking. He told them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (see Jeremiah 29:4-7)
Those words “peace and prosperity”, and in other translations read “welfare”, actually translate to the single Hebrew word shalom.
Does it surprise you that God commands His people to seek the shalom of pagan Babylon? Isn’t it remarkable that God’s desire is for everyone, even those diametrically opposed to him, to experience shalom? Are we living in a modern Babylon?
How does God bring shalom into today’s world? Through His people and through you and me. Of course, the next question is, “How can I bring shalom to others?” Begin with what you know. In your immediate job, ask yourself, “What people do you work with that you can pray for and care for?”
In your institution consider in what ways can you help restore your institution’s (hospital, business, clinic, shop, etc.) calling to be a blessing, to increase the Shalom of clients, parents, colleagues, suppliers, and other stakeholders? How can you contribute to restoring your institution’s call to bring shalom to the end users of the product or service?
In your neighborhood or community: How can you, your family, and your church contribute to the common good of the community in which you are a member?
In the world: How can you influence your family, your school, and your church to contribute to the common good, bringing Shalom into the world? In what ways can you restore flourishing in and through your ministry?
You have probably heard me say something on the order of “our students are being taught and trained to be the cultural salt and light.” I firmly believe this, and I am passionately committed to seeing every student leave Maranatha Christian Academy prepared to take Jesus into every man’s world. One of the many ways we equip our students for that is to understand and seek shalom while being bearers of it.