We live in troubled times. The values which comprise the foundation of our nation once seemed unshakably solid, but today feel more like eroding sand. Nearly every institution that supports our civil society seems dysfunctional: government, public education, civic community, and yes, even the Christian Church have all seen their reputations sullied by decades of corruption and decay. It is disconcerting to see so much we took for granted as the stabilizing factors of culture fading away.
In periods of profound change such as these, it is easy, even natural, to assign blame. Turn on OAN and it is the illegitimate regime of Joe Biden and his coconspirators in Congress who have taken our nation over the abyss. MSNBC is no better: Maddow and company blame the 45th president and Mitch McConnell for everything from climate change to school shootings. Black Lives Matter point to white privilege as the cause for the socio-economic disenfranchisement of people of color, while groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys peddle white replacement theory to justify their racist ideology.
We, the church, are not immune to the blame game. Like the larger culture, Christians are as divided as ever. It used to be doctrinal convictions that separated us. Now we add the toxic political ingredients of Christian nationalism, racial and social justice, and sexual identity to the cauldron giving us even more reasons to accuse each other of not being “true” Christians. Some believers think things are bad because God is judging us for not being Christian enough, while others blame the intransigency of traditionalists that caused the church to lose its voice in our culture.
Might I offer another perspective? Rather than blaming each other for the ills of the nation, might we consider what the Scriptures teach us about our world? Perhaps we may find some context to better understand the times we find ourselves in its pages. When God fashioned the Creation, he infused it with Shalom. This word means more than just an abstract notion of peace; it is the harmony actively at work in relationships. In Genesis 1-2 we see the creation was in perfect Shalom. There once existed a harmonious relationship between God, humanity, and the rest of creation. Humanity was bestowed with four Shalom relationships: 1) with God, 2) with the creation, 3) with him/herself and 4) with other humans. There was peace in every aspect of human existence. It was good. It was very good.
Then disharmony entered the creation. Genesis 3 reveals that something happened that broke Shalom. Like a 10-Richtor scale earthquake, the repercussions spread far and wide. First, Shalom with God was severed. Where they once strolled with God along garden paths, humans now feel shame in his presence. Peace with the creation morphed into a contest of wills over who will master the ecosystem.
Humans devolved into creatures of inward conflict, tossed to and fro between the extremes of self-loathing and vain conceit. Lastly, the communal Shalom between humans was crippled by allegation, envy, and a gnawing fear of the other.
Jesus’ incarnation marked the beginning of the restoration of Shalom in the creation. It is different this time. It appears to spread across the world like a river slowly rising above its banks inch by inch. As much as we long for Shalom to quench our parched world’s thirst instantaneously, this is the way God ordained it to unfold this time around. Shalom feels painfully slow in its progression as the atrocities of the world seem to outpace it by the day.
Taking all this into account we can see that the turbulence of our times should not be all that surprising. We live in a world where commotion and discontent are the norm. Just because we experience periods of respite from discord ought not dull us from the true nature of our surroundings. The truth is that a particular socio/cultural perspective has charted the course of the nation for decades. This was the norm for the bulk of most of our lifetimes. Accustomed to living in this particular context may make what is happening now so jarring. It leads some to feel like the whole American experiment is slipping into a void of no return. This may be true, or this might just be yet another iteration of change. What is certain is that our society is a version of the corrupt, disharmonious world system caused by the Fall. It might be the best-case scenario for living in the broken world, but it has never come close to encompassing the Shalom God intended to govern us.
So, how do we respond and endure during times like these? First, we are not to join the chorus of complainers. We are not to harmonize with the naysayers who blame others for what they do not like happening around them. Instead, we begin with contemplation and prayer. We ask ourselves and consider how we might be culprits in stalling the spread of Shalom. This is crucial if we are serious about being Jesus followers. He made it abundantly clear that those who come after him are not to be inhibitors of Shalom.
Another response is to think of people you hate, or at least are extremely intolerant towards, and pray that God will fill you with a deep, abiding love for them. This can be incredibly hard to do because our certitude of being right takes a hit when we do this. When we learn to love those we rather not love, we will begin to see them like God does. They are a casualty, just like you and me, of broken Shalom. Our love for them does not have to register agreement with their lifestyle or choices, but it removes the splinter of conceit which pricks our hearts.
On Sunday, for the past six months, we have been recounting how the Shalom Jesus initiated at the cross worked its way through the corrupt, idolatrous hinterlands of the Roman Empire. Much of what we are experiencing now parallels what was happening then. The apostles and early Christians could have sequestered themselves in house churches and resigned to grumbling about the discombobulation of society. But they didn’t. Filled with the Holy Spirit and inspired by the teachings of Jesus, they set out to transform their world. They did not try to change politically it by electing Christian senators or supporting religious potentates. No, they kept their ministry local and close to the ground, reaching out to the fractured communities of the empire with the Good News that Shalom has returned to the world through the name of Jesus. Their evangelistic efforts eventually affected the trajectory of Rome, but it was after centuries of steadfastly loving others, meeting everyday needs, and discipling enemies to become brethren in the new Kingdom Jesus established.
Between now and Sunday, I encourage you to take some time to consider how you can be a Shalom spreader. What do you need to ask God to change in you to foster this? Who do you need to stop complaining about and start loving more? How can you bring God’s Shalom to the people around you? Where in the community do you see a desperate need for Shalom? Spend time with Jesus this week. Seek his Shalom. Allow his teachings to guide your word and acts. Listen for and yield to what the Holy Spirit reveals as you consider the questions. The answers to these questions will determine the degree of Shalom you feel amidst the current national unrest and might offer a glimmer of hope that right now seems so far out of reach.
Blessings to you,