Yesterday, my oldest daughter and I had a daddy-daughter date. We got matching tattoos with the Hebrew word, shalom, a core theme in how I want to live my life. When I wrote Soil of the Divine last year, my intention was to try to explore the idea of shalom through poetry. In some cases, I believe I succeeded, but in others, I fell short.
Most people upon hearing the word shalom either have never been exposed to it before, or have heard it defined as “peace.” Traditionally, Bible scholars have interpreted it as peace as well. Peace is certainly a part of shalom, but it is incomplete. Doug Hershey makes the observation that “the common Western definition of peace is–the absence of conflict or war–but in Hebrew it means so much more.” In truth, shalom is not so much the absence of something, but presence.
One of my favorite quotes–in fact I shared it at the opening of my book–comes from Neal Plantiga’s excellent Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that employs joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”
When God created the cosmos, it was the way it should be; it was true, good, and beautiful. More importantly, it was filled with the manifest presence of God, who is love. Yet when sin entered the world, this perfect state of affairs was marred. We have longed for it ever since.
As believers, I think we are not called principally to avoid conflict, but to seek shalom. We are called to a higher existence. We are called to be, as my friend Curt says, “outposts of goodness and beauty.” Every thought, every action that we engage in moves us toward an integrated state or a disintegrated one. We move toward wholeness, or away.
When we respond to others with disrespect, dismissiveness, or self-centeredness, we are acting in disintegrating ways. When we seek to listen, understand, know, and love–particularly those who are different–we are behaving in integrating ways. We are pursuing shalom.
Every person we meet is longing for completeness. As Christians, we know in whom completeness is found and God calls us to be ambassadors of shalom.