STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 06/14/2010

Peace That Passes Understanding: Toward a Theology of Peacemaking

by Marvin Wilson

If the Old Testament were to have a candidate for Peacemaker Award, I believe Abraham would be the honoree. When we look closely at the traits of Father Abraham, we find him to be an exemplary model of faithful obedience, one whose sensitive, godly character is oriented toward hospitality, reconciliation and peacemaking. Abraham is far more than a name from Bible 101.

To take just one example, when Abraham (an “Iraqi” from Mesopotamia) meets Melchizedek (a Canaanite king-priest
from the city of Salem) he does not avoid contact with this stranger. Rather, Abraham opens himself up to him; the patriarch discovers he and Melchizedek worship the same God. They then share bread and wine together, tokens of friendship, hospitality and peace.

Why was Abraham chosen? The obvious answer is the Messiah would come through his line. But great as that promise is, there is more. God says, “I have chosen him” so his children after him will “keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19). Those who are faithful and true “sons and daughters” of Abraham also have a concern for practicing tzedakah (“righteousness”) and mishpat (“justice”). If the Apostle James were addressing us today, he would say, “To have the faith of Abraham, without his works, is to be spiritually dead.”

The grand scheme of Scripture is the story of reconciliation, of shalom, between God and humankind. God is the Author of perfect shalom (Isaiah 26:3). His Messiah is the Prince of Shalom (Isaiah 9:6). And because we have received reconciliation through Christ (Romans 5:11), we have peace with God (Romans 5:1). God, in turn, calls us to be part of this “ministry of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:18).

What does it mean, as ministers of reconciliation, to bring shalom to this world? The Hebrew term properly means “wholeness,” “well-being” or “perfection.” Shalom includes friendship, harmony and health. Though personal sins and societal imperfections now often thwart shalom, the prophetic vision of shalom will one day not be denied: harmonious relations within a fully redeemed, restored and perfected world. Ultimately He shall “speak peace to the nations” (Zechariah 9:10) and they “will not learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). As agents of peace and reconciliation, we presently await its culmination.

Though biblical reconciliation is ultimately focused in Christ and His work, it is not without profound interpersonal, social, physical and even environmental implications. In my classes at Gordon I often say “Good theology will lead to good sociology.” In Scripture the two are often intertwined. The practical peacebuilding projects described in this issue of STILLPOINT illustrate this truth, reflecting how God is present in the life of the doer and through deeds that display His nature and bring glory to Him. These personal narratives about peacebuilding demonstrate in concrete situations how the God of peace equips believers to do His will.

Yet as the stories in this issue of STILLPOINT illustrate, reconciliation is usually more a process than an event. The bitterness within human hearts cannot simplistically or quickly be separated from bitterness often derived from one’s social situation. Barriers of misunderstanding, resentment and painful memory of atrocities require the gradual building of bridges of communication, friendship and harmony between individuals, communities and nations.

Peacemaking is often elusive and easily fractured. Like other paradoxes of Scripture, the concept of shalom reflects the real tension of the “already but not yet.” Thus we are urged to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14; cf. I Peter 3:11). Even in times of futility we persevere, for in the end there is hope promised those committed to “waging peace.” They will reap, in due season, a “harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).

Indeed, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).

Marvin R. Wilson, Ph.D., Ockenga Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, has taught Old Testament and Jewish-Christian studies at Gordon since 1971. He is the author of the widely used textbook Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, and worked as a translator and editor of the New International Version of the Bible. Locally and nationally he has extensive experience in building bridges of understanding between the evangelical Christian and Jewish communities.

NEXT: Teaching Peace: An Interview with Judith Oleson and Daniel Johnson