During Advent many people enjoy using “peace” to describe a (hopefully) still and thoughtful season. In English, “peace” is a narrow word. We use “peace” to mean an absence of conflict – no one is openly hostile. Or we just want “a bit of peace” – meaning we desire everything around us to be quiet and calm. As an elementary school counselor, I can certainly relate to THAT particular desire! If “quiet” was my sole definition of peace, my life would contain precious little peace!
“Peace” is an English word that tends to have a shallow use amongst the general public, with the exception of a more mystical application amongst Christians. (For example, many Christians will refer to Jesus Christ rightly as the “Prince of Peace” or refer to the spiritual fruit of “peace” with vague explanations of what “peace” looks like in practice.) The trouble with restricting peace to a lack of hostility or war, or to the presence of silence, is that we end with a skimpy understanding. In Scripture, peace is to be recognized as both a rich concept and a glorious reality. The words most often translated to our simple “peace” are shalom (Hebrew, primarily Old Testament) and eirene (eye-ray-nay – Greek, New Testament). Though originating from vastly different languages, these two words are applied with congruent meaning in God’s Word.
Shalom. This is a common greeting in Jewish culture, spoken as a blessing over one another in coming and going. Shalom means permanent completeness, total wholeness, and soundness or wellbeing in all areas of life. Given the Advent season, let’s look at a passage from Isaiah, foretelling the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior:
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; dominion will rest on his shoulders, and he will be given the name Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Shalom.” – Isaiah 9:6
Prince of Shalom, Prince of Peace – try reading it again with the definition of “shalom”:
“For a child is born to us….he will be given the name Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of permanent completeness and wellbeing.”
Eirene. This word is used heavily throughout the Gospels by Jesus. It also directly opens (and closes) nearly every epistle (letter) in the New Testament, or the concept is tied into the closing. Eirene means unity to the point of oneness, total and complete wholeness of one’s entire being and life.
“….Grace to you, and eirene [sound wholeness] be yours in full measure.” – 1 Peter 1:2
“Greet one another with a kiss of love. Eirene [perfect wellbeing] to all who belong to Christ.”
– 1 Peter 5:14
And for this precious season of celebration: “In the highest heaven, glory to God! And on earth, eirene [complete wholeness and unity] among people of good will,” the angels declared in praise to the shepherds as Christ was born (Luke 2:8-14).
Through Christ Jesus we do not simply have the absence of conflict or a quiet hush. All things are made whole and complete in Him, without even a whisper of brokenness. In Colossians 1:19-20 we read, “For it pleased God to have his full being live in his Son and through his Son to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making eirene [permanent wholeness and perfect unity] through him, through having his Son shed his blood by being executed on a stake.” (I recommend reading the full passage for a more pristine context!) Because of Jesus we are welcomed into the glorious reality of shalom, of eirene: total and complete wholeness. Nothing missing, nothing broken. Wholeness is not our promise for some day in the distant future. Read the verses from Colossians again. Our loving Heavenly Father was delighted to restore his creation to its original form: whole. Complete. One with him. It is already done. On the cross Jesus declared, ‘“It is finished”’ (see John 19:28-30). This declaration sealed Jesus’ sacrifice as our reconciliation for all eternity.
We have been made totally and completely whole by Jesus’ sacrifice; it is already done. Now our invitation is to live in the glorious reality of wholeness – permanently.
As each year ends, I begin asking God what word he has for me in the new year to come. My word for 2022 came immediately, a firm whisper growing to a battle-cry in my soul: wholeness. I adore and despise the word, because I look at myself and the world around me, still seeing the tattered shroud of brokenness that I know Jesus came to tear away. I know that wholeness is my portion. I know that God’s wholeness is total and complete. Yes, that is a redundant comment, but we are as skimpy in our definitions of “wholeness” as we are of “peace.” We let mostly-well and not-too-bad be our so-called wholeness and miss the reality of God’s kindness. I say have a “whole” apple – even when it is bruised and scarred. A student tells me he “has shoes” when the soles have worn as thin as paper and his toes are free in the wind, laces snapped and knotted back together. That isn’t wholeness. Those things aren’t like the wholeness God desires for his children.
I am afraid in some ways, afraid of continuing to contend for promises that God has made for wholeness in my body, my soul; for wholeness in my family; for permanent soundness in my husband’s body and soul; for unity and permanent wellbeing in my community and my students. I continue to ask, and in some ways I have not seen yet. My heart breaks with the suffering – mental, emotional, and physical – that I see in my beloved ones. I feel a gaping hole at the loss of my grandmother, who would have been the first to read my newest writing; I wanted one more hug, one more chance to tell her how much her constant love means to me.
This longing for wholeness wracks the deepest core of my being – it is so strong the desire carries a physical weightiness. My conversations with God in the dark hours of the night, the vivid dreams that are not yet visible in my physical understanding, the hurts of my loved ones that I cannot take on my own shoulders, the many years of journals filled with honest words that yield my waiting to hope time and again – these linger with me constantly. I cannot tell you the number of tears and sleepless nights spent in pursuing this longing.
Mark 5:21-34 gives us a stunning picture of the pursuit of wholeness. Jesus is on his way to save the life of a deathly ill little girl. As he is moving through the crowds, a desperate woman makes her way to him, determined to touch his garment and claim her healing after over a decade of constant bleeding that no doctor could explain and no money could cure. There is nothing left for her brokenness aside from Jesus. But why interrupt now? Could she not have waited until Jesus healed the girl? (The girl died, by the way, while this nameless nobody was interrupting Jesus with her brokenness.) This woman had been bleeding for twelve years – could she not have simply waited another hour or so?! Yet that is exactly our trouble with wholeness; we don’t pursue it at all costs. We do not pursue wholeness when we are afraid that we will inconvenience someone else (even Jesus) on our mission to live in the reality of being complete. I do not think it is a matter of not wanting it enough; I believe it is a matter of not truly recognizing the importance and the release of wholeness. Jesus does not send away this woman who is clinging to her hope of wholeness, just in case you wondered. The woman is terrified when Jesus acknowledges her surreptitious touch of his garment and the subsequent instant flow of his Life into her body. Look carefully, though, at Jesus’ response:
‘“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in eirene [perfect and complete wholeness] and be freed from your suffering.”’ – Mark 5:34
I want to be as committed to my wholeness as Jesus is. I am ready for “wholeness” to be not merely a half-dressed word but a reality I live in for myself and my loved ones. I refuse to settle for “good enough” or “not too bad.” I am sick of mostly-well and sort-of-fine. I am finished with “okay.” That isn’t enough for me anymore. Maybe it was once sufficient, but now I am ready for the fullness of what God has prepared for me.
I am ready for permanent wholeness to be my reality. Perhaps it is time for each of us to reject our fear of the unknown to the all-knowing God. Perhaps the time has come for you and me to yield our understanding to the Living Hope that Does Not Disappoint. Perhaps it is time to begin pursuing wholeness with reckless abandon and a heart tender to God’s kindness, dear heart. I bless you in your journey as you learn to live in the perfect wholeness that God has for you.
Shalom be with you, brave heart.