‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’Matthew 5:9
Peace is an impoverished and thin concept in the modern world. In most cases—say the cessation of hostilities in the Middle East, or of the return of ‘peace’ to troubled streets—it simply means a stop to fighting. Peace is achieved in a relationship when a fight is over, when siblings or friends are no longer at odds. People stopped, and then there was peace. But is that all there is?
The world’s idea of peace seems to land on three ideas—either cease, compromise, or kill. Peace is declared when fighting ceases. Peace is announced when a mutual compromise is reached. Peace is achieved when the enemy has been killed once and for all. But is this what God means by peace? Does this help us at all to be peacemakers?
The Bible’s idea of peace, of course, is bound up with shalom—a far more expansive concept, it points to a holistic rightness in the world. It is not merely the cessation of hostilities, but the creation of well-being; not merely a mutual compromise, but the mutual joy of all parties involved. Shalom is bound intrinsically to justice—justice for all, justice pervading the world. Consequently, it is also a part of shalom that for those who refuse to enter joyfully into God’s peace, shalom will ultimately involve their destruction. In the end, only God’s peace will remain.
Of course, the ultimate peacemaker is Christ. Therefore, to be a peacemaker is to become like Christ, and we can look to Christ’s peace to better understand how we are to be peacemakers.
How does Jesus create peace? We can look to two passages of scripture. The first is Ephesians 2:13-16, which states Jesus’s peacemaking activities clearly, ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.’ Jesus took human sin to himself on the cross, absorbing into himself that which divided us from the Father and from one another. In his body, therefore, he has created the potential for peace—for shalom. Jesus’s death and resurrection, in other words, are the basis of our peace.
But there is another way that Jesus makes peace, and this is rooted in Psalm 2 (which, if you remember, stands influentially behind the beatitudes). In that Psalm, the Psalmist envisions a group who stand opposed to God’s rule—they cry out to throw off God’s ‘chains’ and binding cords. God’s answer is to install a king, to whom He announces, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten you.’ The son of God, according to Psalm 2, is God’s appointed King—God’s response to the rebellion of the nations. The final verses (10-12) speak to the Son’s peacekeeping mission, ‘Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that he not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!’ Here we have the second prong of the son’s peacekeeping mission—a rod of iron, used to strike the rebellious nations and destroy them.
If you are a peacemaker, you will be called a son of God—and here we must note the importance of language. It is not that you will be called a ‘child’ of God. Other passages get us to that—here, Jesus’s promise ties us to the mission of the Psalm 2 king, to his mission, to the ministry of ‘the Son.’ Jesus is the Son of God, and we are to be peacemakers as Jesus is a peacemaker. By becoming peacemakers we become sons after the pattern of the Psalm 2 king.
What kind, then, of peacemaking it is that we are supposed to do—is it Ephesians 2 peacekeeping, or Psalm 2 peacekeeping? One brings shalom through the cross; the other brings shalom through the execution of God’s perfect justice. That both exist side-by-side may make us uncomfortable.
The answer, in part, is that while we have explicit commands to perform the first kind of peacekeeping (Ephesians 2 peacekeeping), we also have explicit commands to wait on the second kind of peacekeeping (Psalm 2 peacekeeping). When Jesus tells his parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30), he warns us to await judgment until the final day. And the reason for this is because we’re consistently poor judges when it comes to discerning just who it is that is worth uprooting. We’re small-minded, and liable to make mistakes. Therefore, this side of Christ’s return, we are called and summoned to a cruciform peacekeeping. We are called to the laying down of our lives, to the bodily (and painful) pursuit of God’s shalom on behalf of others. We are to pray for our enemies, bless those who persecute us, and forgive endlessly.
The other kind of peacemaking we will leave to Christ.
Those who adopt the attitude of the seventh beatitude are people who actively imitate, after the pattern of our Lord, the peace he made through the cross. And this means a commitment to embracing personal suffering for the sake of peace in other people’s lives. We stop at nothing to seek out true peace—shalom—between us and our neighbours. If necessary, we are even willing to lay down our lives for the sake of that peace.
The promise of this beatitude is that when we commit to this way of living, we become co-inheritors of the Kingdom with Christ. Quite amazingly, those who make peace by taking up our own cross will reign with Christ.
And lastly, such an attitude and obedience in peacemaking generates a thin space through which God invades our world afresh—God will be seen through our radical obedience (our turning the other cheek, our going the extra mile), and those who see that peace will hunger for the shalom of which it is a foretaste.
Read a news source while reflecting on the concept of shalom. While you do it, ask God to speak to you. What is His vision for shalom in the stories you are reading? How does the world’s peace fail to measure up?
Bonus Spiritual Practice: Seek to make peace somewhere in your life where either there is no peace, or where a false peace has been in place. As you pursue this peace, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and give your cloak away if necessary. However the circumstances play out, in this process you are voluntarily embracing a momentary discomfort for the sake of becoming a ‘son of God’ after the Psalm 2 pattern. Rejection is, of course, possible, but you should do this expecting shalom.