Part II: Shalom – The Result of God’s Blessing
In his excellent volume, “Not the Way it Ought to Be: A Breviary of Sin,” Cornelius Plantinga parts the curtains to give the reader a “backstage” peek into God’s intentions in Christ:
The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the prophets call shalom. We may translate shalom as ‘peace,’ but there is a deeper meaning that transcends mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and completeness – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a condition that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes creatures in whom he delights.
Isn’t this the kind of world everyone longs for?
The word “shalom” describes God’s preferred world, a realm which operates “the way things ought to be.” Out of his largesse, God graciously offers a “shalomic” future to the creatures made in the Son’s image.
If this idea of shalom resonates with you, you are bearing witness to the existence of a longing in every human heart. How is it possible that there is a deep desire within each of us to go to a place none of us have ever experienced? It is as if we were not made for this vandalized world but for a flourishing world where everything is “just the way it ought to be.” C.S. Lewis writes that this yearning makes us hunger for “news from a country we have never visited, the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard.” I can already smell the aroma of that flower and hear the lilt of the shalom national anthem!
This brings us to the heart of the task of missions. Our charge is to tap into this human hunger for shalom, identify it, encourage the quest for it, and offer the one thing that can fill it. We can be confident that, as Blaise Pascal’s maxim affirms, “there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.” Pascal (and many others) affirm that those we encounter who need the Gospel are already “feeling their way to find” (Acts 17:27, ESV) the Good News that can satisfy human hunger.
This leaves us with two questions. First, what do we have to offer to the heart that is starved for shalom? The answer in a word is “blessing.” Blessing is the central topic of these three blogs. And it is blessing that is God’s gift to us that enables us to lead people to discover the shalom that can be found only in Christ.
The Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6 helps us grasp the “blessing >> shalom” sequence:
Numbers 6:24 The Lord BLESS you and protect you.
25 The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
26 The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you SHALOM.
This first word in the Hebrew text of Num. 6:24 is “bless” and the last word of v. 26 is “shalom.” More than a quirk of vocabulary, a precise message is being conveyed by a skilled writer. The reader is to understand that, in showing favor on his people, God starts with blessing, and ends with shalom. Blessing is intended to lead to shalom. (This is the power of blessing that was highlighted in the first blog in this series.)
The second question puts meat on the bones of blessing. How does blessing allow people to begin to experience shalom? It is the truth that blessing only comes from Jesus. As the Prince of Shalom (Isa. 9:6), Jesus alone can open the door to allow each person to begin to experience shalom.
Using a sequence of six profound insights, Paul developed this “blessing>>shalom” idea in Ephesians:
(1:2) Favor and SHALOM from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [Can you hear the echoes of the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6?]
(1:3) …God has BLESSED us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies…
(2:14) …Christ Himself is our SHALOM…
(2:15) … Jesus established SHALOM.
(2:17) Jesus preached SHALOM…
(6:15) …Having shod your feet with the readiness which you derive from the Good News which is about SHALOM…
6:15 indicates that the Good News makes the messenger ready. And the content of Good News is SHALOM. The courier who is engaged in battle has been dispatched with Good News. His metaphorical feet which propel the messenger forward into battle are shod with MRF – Military Readiness Footwear – that enable the warrior to deliver his message. He is now fit to engage in battle by announcing the Good News of SHALOM to the enemy.
There is a simplicity to the working of the Good News in a fallen world. The Good News brings blessing through Christ and the fruit of blessing is entry into God’s shalom. Though we live now in a world where things are not as they ought to be, the receipt of the blessing found in Christ guides us into God’s eternal shalom where everything is as it ought to be.