“This Is Fine”
Jeremiah 6:14 is a verse that has echoed in my mind. When you understand what is going on in that verse, it is not something that you can easily move past. In this passage, Jeremiah is writing about the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Israel had been chosen by God to be the vessel through which God would bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-2), but they had consistently turned their back on God, worshiped the idols of the nations, neglected justice, and acted mercilessly toward their fellow Israelites as well as toward immigrants from other nations. The coming judgment was well deserved and was perfectly aligned with what God had been telling them for generations.
But in the midst of all of this, while Jeremiah is proclaiming the judgment of God that would come upon Israel, other priests and prophets were saying “Peace, peace.” They were saying that everything was ok. In 2013, a meme was produced as part of a webcomic by Karen Green entitled Gunshow. This meme shows a dog sitting at a table drinking coffee in a room that is set ablaze while the speech bubble says, “This is fine.” That meme encapsulates the idea that is being described when Jeremiah says,
“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
What Is Peace?
There are some things that we need to understand when we look at this verse and these things are not easily seen when we only look at the English translation. The word “healed” can also be translated as “rebuilt”; the word for “wound” can also mean “brokenness” and the word “peace” is the Hebrew word “shalom” which has many meanings, including “completeness”, “wholeness”, “well-being”, and “welfare”.
Thinking deeply about peace will lead to some deep longing and hope. But the priests and prophets were deeply wrong in how they were using this word. Most of the time when we think of “peace”, we think of something akin to Psalm 23:1-2:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”
This beautifully peaceful picture can perhaps best be described as serene. It is an amazing truth that is profoundly comforting. And it is a picture of peace. But even this passage takes us much deeper into peace than we typically consider. Our typical understanding of peace is approached from the perspective of what is absent—namely chaos or strife. Essentially, if we can get everything quiet and calm, we would consider that to be “peace”. “Shalom” includes that idea, but it doesn’t stop there. It is so much more than that.
Let’s look at where our idea of peace leaves something to be desired. If you peek into a neighborhood that is riddled with poverty, you might find moments of quiet and assume there is peace. But if we look at that in terms of “shalom”, and particularly in light of this verse in Jeremiah, the peace that is there in that quiet falls woefully short of biblical peace. Quietness does very little to rebuild the brokenness that fills impoverished neighborhoods. When people are hungry and fill the lowest rungs of society with little hope for an improved life, their lives cannot be described as “whole”. There is little well-being to be spoken of. They may very well welcome moments of quiet, but quietness for them is not the goal, wholeness is. Silence isn’t what is needed, “shalom” is.
How about racial injustice? Political Correctness created cones of silence around racialized language. Encouragement toward color-blindness quieted a majority of the most pointed racist discourse, at least in public. And many will argue that racism was effectively eradicated. Yet we have clearly seen that there is no “shalom” in terms of the racial divide in the US. There was a period of relative quietness in this realm, but the underlying turmoil persisted, nonetheless. There is still deep division in our society. And there is no wholeness where division runs rampant. Tensions in this space remain high, and any spark can ignite an inferno. This is not “shalom”. There cannot be biblical peace until the wounds are bound and healed and wholeness is restored. That is the very definition of “shalom”.
When my son was born, there were times where I just wanted some “peace and quiet”. Any new parent can relate. Newborns are awake at all hours of the night and there will be no rest until their needs are satisfied. It is very normal for new parents to deeply desire quietness. But as I found myself wanting quiet, I was constantly reminded of the words of our pediatrician who told us that it is good to hear the cries of a child. Malnourished babies are relatively quiet, but healthy babies cry to let you know that they need something. Silence isn’t always a sign of health. At times it is quite the opposite.
Healthy communities feast together. Healthy communities celebrate together. Healthy communities mourn together. Togetherness is not usually quiet, and quietness is not always peaceful. There can be great tension in the midst of the quiet.
Jeremiah tells us that things were not right in Jerusalem. There was great injustice in Jerusalem. Orphans and widows were ignored, immigrants were neglected, unjust scales were used. There was much to lament and much which required repentance. Yet the priests and prophets were claiming “Shalom, Shalom”. They were redefining what God meant by “shalom”. Revelation 21:3-4 describes the “shalom” of God:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”
In God’s shalom, everything will be made right. Injustice will be no more. There will be no fear. There will be no death or pain. There will be no divisions between man and God or among men. Everything will be whole; everything will be complete. Everything will be as God designed it to be. All that disrupted shalom will have passed away.
So for the priests and prophets to announce peace when there was no peace was to completely misrepresent God and to diminish the hope of God’s people. It was telling them to put their hope of peace in something less than God’s design. To claim "'peace', 'peace' when there is no peace" is to proclaim that brokenness is whole, and partiality is complete. It is to proclaim that the wounded are healed when they aren't even being tended to, just ignored.
What do we do with this? Where do we go from here? Jesus. I know, that’s the easy church answer. But it’s the right answer. And he spelled it out for us in Matthew 5:9:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
We are to be peacemakers, or shalom-makers. And in light of what we’ve been discussing, shalom-makers aren’t just those who maintain the quiet. Maintaining the status quo is quiet, but it is what the priests and prophets were doing in Jeremiah. That isn’t shalom-making, that is quiet-keeping. Shalom-making entails disrupting injustice. It involves showing love and mercy where it is not shown. It is a fracturing of the status quo that keeps the oppressed in oppression and the poor in poverty. It takes power and uses it for the good of others, not personal profit. It speaks out against partiality. Proverbs 31:8-9 puts it like this:
“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Psalm 82:3-4 says this:
“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Most of the time we want peace for ourselves. But Jesus calls us to pursue shalom for others. That means we pursue the health, well-being, completeness, wholeness and welfare of others…even if it means that we sacrifice our own in the process. Our hope of eternal shalom that outweighs any temporal peace means that we can sacrifice now so that others can be well. It means we can speak up for the dignity and well-being of others even if it costs us dearly now.
The Gospel of Shalom
This is a gospel issue. Let me say that again. Pursuing shalom is a gospel issue. In fact, Paul describes the gospel, in Ephesians 6:15 as the “gospel of peace”. Jesus also makes that clear in Matthew 25:34-40:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
He goes on to say the exact opposite to those who didn’t do these things. This doesn’t mean that you will be saved by doing these things, but these things will be evident in lives that have been changed by the gospel. In other words, compassion for the poor, needy, marginalized, and outcast is fruit of faith in the gospel.
There is one other place to look at where we clearly see shalom-making. It is in Galatians 2:11-14:
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’”
Peter (Cephas) was acting in a way contrary to the gospel—he was showing partiality along ethnic lines. This is similar (though not 100% equivalent) to racism today. And Paul stepped in as a shalom-maker, confronted Peter, and pointed to the gospel as the answer. Paul stuck his neck out to preserve shalom. We also are called to be shalom-makers.
The gospel of Jesus is that shalom will come in full one day. But as Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” he was teaching us that we should desire and pursue shalom on earth.
God demands that we pursue justice and love mercy. He has for all of history. In other words, we must actually pursue God's intended "shalom" and stop just trying to merely pursue the absence of visible strife while calling that "peace". God's peace is so much better than our version.
-by Tyler Campbell