The Coming Shalom of God

The coming of Christ we await at Advent is the coming of God’s peace. The establishment of Christ’s reign—the coming Kin-dom of God— is the Shalom God promises. And thus far, our Sunday readings from Isaiah, have given us some pretty vivid pictures of this coming peace (Isaiah 2:1-5, Isaiah 11:1-10). But what is it we mean when we talk about peace?

A lot of times, when we talk about peace, we mean simply the absence of war or conflict. In the world that Jesus was born into, the pax Ramana (the peace of Rome) was an era of relative stability because Rome was so good at conquering people. It was the ancient equivalent of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Rome was really good at enforcing  peace on people whose freedom they took. Sometimes when we talk about peace, we mean the absence of anxiety. The Buddhist monk, Thích Nhất Hạnh, regards inner peace as a a mindful awareness of all of life, and awareness that we are connected with everything around us.

Like our own multivalent understandings of peace, the bibilical concept of peace, rooted in the Hebrew word, Shalom, is supple. It has the idea of absence of conflict, but also welfare, wellbeing, wholeness, healing, belonging.  It is a state where all the broken things are mended, everything is as it should be, and anything that shouldn’t be, is not. 

Nicholas Wolterstorff, observes, “Shalom is the human being dwelling at peace in all his or her relationships: with God, with self, with fellows, with nature.”[1] Wolterstorf explains shalom in relationship with God:

Shalom in the first place incorporates right, harmonious relationships to God and delight in his service. When the prophets speak of shalom, they speak of the day when human beings will no longer flee God down the corridors of time, a day when they will no longer turn in those corridors to defy their divine pursuer. Shalom is perfected when humanity acknowledges that in its service to God is true delight.[2]

Part of the peace of God is peace with God. When the Messiah comes we will live at peace with our Creator. But we will also be at peace with one another. Here is Wolterstorff again:

Secondly, shalom incorporates right harmonious relationships to other human beings and delights in human community. Shalom is absent when a society is a collection of individuals all out to make their own way in the world. And of course their can only be delight in human community, when justice reigns, only when human beings no longer oppress one another.[3]

When riots and demonstrations break out, following an unjust shooting (such as the unjust shooting of a African American by law enforcement) or a killer is acquitted on a technicality, we may hear the crowds chant, “No justice, no peace.” But in another way, we only know peace, when we know justice. The Shalom of God envisions a totally just society where we live at peace with another, without oppression, classism, sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, or other forms of hatred. We will finally be at peace wit hour neighbor. As Walter Bruggemann says, “when Yahweh’s righteousness (Yahweh’s governance) is fully established in the world, the results are fruitfulness, prosperity, freedom, justice, peace, security, and well-being (shalôm).”[4]

Thirdly, Wolterstoff, argues:

Shalom incorporates right harmonious relationship to nature and delight in the physical surroundings. Shalom comes when we, bodily creatures and not disembodied souls, shape the world with our labor and find fulfillment in so doing and delight with the results.[5]

This aspect of Shalom, means a right relationship with nature, and a taking up our Creation mandate as caretakers of the physical world (Genesis 2). Too often, unworldly escapist versions of Christian eschatology have denigrated the physical realm (“who cares, it’s all going to burn anyway?”).  But the shalom of the coming Christ, means a new heaven, a new earth, and a new humanity (of which Christ is the head), all living at peace with one another.

The peace that God has promised us in Christ, the peace that Christ brings, is a revolution of all our relationships. We will be made new, and whole, and complete in love for God, in our just care for others, and our just care of God’s creation.

Anything less, is just a piece of peace. Not the wholeness and wellbeing God offers.


[1] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Until Justice & Peace Embrace (Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans, 1983), 69

[2] Wolterstorff, 70

[3] Ibid

[4] Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 303.

[5] Wolterstorff, 70.

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matichuk

I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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