What does the Bible mean by "peace"?

The word shalom is Hebrew for peace and describes harmony between humanity and all of God's good creation. Photo by RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ, courtesy of Pixabay.
The word shalom is Hebrew for peace and describes harmony between humanity and all of God's good creation. Photo by RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ, courtesy of Pixabay.

The Hebrew word we translate as peace is “shalom.” The way “shalom” is used does not mean to feel calm nor the absence of conflict. Instead shalom, peace, is the result of right relationships with God, one another, and with creation. The concept of peace is wholeness in all of life.

The United Methodist Council of Bishops, in their 1986 statement “In Defense of Creation,” described the biblical foundation of peace:

“At the heart of the Old Testament is the testimony to shalom, that marvelous Hebrew word that means peace. But the peace that is shalom is not negative or one-dimensional. It is much more than the absence of war. Shalom is positive peace: harmony, wholeness, health, and well-being in all human relationships. It is the natural state of humanity as birthed by God. It is harmony between humanity and all of God’s good creation. All of creation is interrelated. Every creature, every element, every force of nature participates in the whole of creation. If any person is denied shalom, all are thereby diminished.” (Peace with Justice Sunday and Special Offering, 2016 Book of Resolutions) 

In the New Testament, Paul begins his letters, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The bishops explained, “Paul’s letters announce that Jesus Christ is “our peace.” It is Christ who “broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us,” creating one humanity, overcoming enmity, so making peace (Ephesians 2:14-19).”

United Methodists recognize that “God’s earth is aching for peace. Domestic strife, interpersonal violence and abuse, civil conflict, ethnic and racial clashes, religious schism and interfaith rivalry, terrorist attacks, wars between nations, and threatened use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons—all of these prevent us from achieving God’s shalom.”

“The Bible makes justice the inseparable companion of peace (Isaiah 32:17; James 3:18). Both point to right and sustainable relationships in human society, the vitality of our connections with the earth, the well-being and integrity of creation. To conceive peace apart from justice is to compromise the hope that justice and peace shall embrace (Psalm 85:10).”

What will peace look like? When there is peace, no one goes hungry. When there is peace, no one is abandoned to fend for themselves. When there is peace, we support each other’s thriving. When there is peace, differences are celebrated as gifts for the good of all. When there is peace, no external threats (though there may be some) prevent us from living the fullest lives we can. When there is peace, there is also every ground for joy.

When we pray for peace and offer one another the peace of Christ, we become channels of God’s never-ending peace that reorders the world toward wholeness.

When we act in the spirit of Christ, we can “sow love where there is hatred, can dispense pardon where there is injury, can cast light where there is darkness. As instruments of peace and justice, we can seek to replace discord with harmony and to repair the brokenness that shatters the wholeness of shalom.”

Paul’s letters offer assurance that peace is not something we have to wait for in some yet to be determined future. Peace is being poured out on us by God right now. The bishops remind us, “No matter how bad things are, God’s creative work continues. Christ’s resurrection assures us that death and destruction do not have the last word. Paul taught that through Jesus Christ, God offers redemption to all of creation and reconciles all things, ‘whether on earth or in heaven’ (Colossians 1:20). God’s Spirit is always and everywhere at work in the world fighting poverty, restoring health, renewing creation, and reconciling peoples.” 

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This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.