What Is Peace?
Everyone is for peace. No one is against it. Yet, how do we assess whether or not peace is possible in our day? Perhaps we can begin by asking ourselves, What is that very elusive quality we call peace?”
To terrorists or tyrants, getting peace means eliminating those who stand in their way—but what they really want is complete control.
To followers of Eastern religions, peace comes from being one with the universe and having no awareness of self—but what they really mean is serenity.
The person who is trying to sleep while a loud party is going on next door also says he wants peace—but he really means quiet.
Peace of mind is what a person is hoping for while waiting to get the results back from a suspicious biopsy—but what she or he really hopes for is good health.
When we don’t have what we think we should have, when we don’t feel the way we think we should feel, we say we need peace! We often define peace as that condition of life that we think ought to exist. But in all of the turmoil of life, who really has the right or capacity to determine what should or shouldn’t be?
Where can we look for a peace that is right for everyone?
Webster defines peace as (1) a state of tranquility, (2) freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions, (3) harmony in personal relations and (4) a state or period of mutual accord between governments.
These definitions can be broken down into two major themes: the cessation of hostilities, and peace of mind. The English word “peace” came from the Latin pax. To Romans, pax meant the cessation of hostilities between the conqueror and the vanquished. This was always a temporary peace as it was interrupted by changes in the balance of power.
The Hebrew concept of peace is rooted in “shalom,” which connotes wholeness, completeness, soundness, safety, health and prosperity. More than that, peace is experienced when that wholeness or health is expressed in our standing with the God of Israel.
Rabbi Robert I. Kahn of Houston, Texas distinguishes between “Roman” peace and “Hebrew” shalom:
- One can dictate a peace; shalom is a mutual agreement.
- Peace is a temporary pact; shalom is a permanent agreement.
- One can make a peace treaty; shalom is the condition of peace.
- Peace can be negative, the absence of commotion; Shalom is positive, the presence of serenity.
- Peace can be partial; shalom is whole.
- Peace can be piecemeal; shalom is complete.
The mystical writings of the Zohar teach that God is peace, his name is peace, and all is bound together in peace (Zohar, Lev. 10b). In post-Talmudic Jewish thought, Isaac Arama paraphrased this idea by saying:
Peace is a positive thing, the essential means by which men of differing temperaments and opinions can work together for the common good. Pearls of individual virtue would be dim in isolation were it not for the string of peace that binds them together and so increases their luster. That is why peace is a name of God for it is He who gives unity to the whole of creation.1
The criteria for shalom, true peace, then, rest with God. This definition of peace must begin with the assumption that there is a Creator and that he has established a standard for us. From there must come an acceptance (at least for the understanding of this article) of the way in which God has chosen to reveal himself to man—through the Bible.
The first example of peace in the Bible is the condition that existed in the beginning in Eden. There is good reason to believe the Genesis account of creation; but even if you don’t believe it literally, the message still demonstrates a lesson of peace.
Adam and Eve were at peace with God, with the creation and with each other. All their needs were supplied. There was no disease or discomfort. They were surrounded by beauty. They weren’t lonely because they had each other. More importantly, they had an intimate relationship with the One who created them. If any people ever experienced peace, it was Adam and Eve. But peace, even in the Garden of Eden, was conditional. It was Adam and Eve’s only as long as they remained obedient to their Creator.
The first man and woman lost their shalom because of disobedience. Similarly, the Jewish people were promised peace through obedience to the Torah. God told our people that our relative peace in the promised land was directly related to our obedience to him. In Deuteronomy 28, God promises that blessing will come with obedience. The description of God’s blessings in this chapter cover every area of life imaginable. In response to our obedience, God promises wholeness in the family, wholeness in the environment, wholeness in relationship to the surrounding nations. The promised land bore the promise of being another Garden of Eden, a land truly flowing with milk and honey. Yet the same passage that promises blessing and peace for obedience declares a curse, violence and strife for disobedience. There would be environmental crisis; drought would plague the land. Strife would occur in the family. Violence would be a characteristic of society. The very safety and security of living in the land would be jeopardized by our disobedience to God. The fruit of disobedience is no peace. Can it be that after these many centuries we still have yet to learn this most basic lesson from the Torah? We are unable to obey God. We are unable to achieve peace through our own efforts.
The blessing of the Holy One is peace.
-Talmud Megilla, 18a
We spend millions of dollars and an endless amount of effort to negotiate peace among people and nations, as though peace could be achieved through social, political or economic solutions. Yet racial and religious strife has never been more prevalent than it is today. Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Chechnya, Rwanda, Liberia, Bosnia and a host of other places are hotbeds of warring. Even Jerusalem (the name means City of Peace) is a place where acts of terrorism abound.
So should we just pack it in?
Absolutely not. There really is reason to hope. There is a peace that transcends the situations and flaws of our own personal lives because it doesn’t come from our efforts. The peace that we long for is not based on political compromises—it is based on God’s truth. You see, the only real peace, the shalom that is permanent, comes from God.
The Jewish sages taught that when the Messiah comes, there will be peace in the world. They taught that the Messiah is God’s solution for peace. The phrase “when the Messiah comes” is a synonym for “when peace comes.” The long-held hope for peace would be fulfilled in a person.
Two thousand years ago, a Jewish carpenter we know as Jesus—Yeshua—claimed to be that Messiah. He claimed to be the bearer of peace. And the prophet Isaiah wrote about him:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:6, 7
How was the Messiah to bring peace? A permanent end to all warfare is found in a relationship with the One who bridged the chasm between us and God—Yeshua. He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be dismayed” (John 14:27). It is a different kind of peace that Yeshua offers us. It is a peace not based on outward circumstances but on the reality of a restored relationship with the God of Israel. God himself became one of us because he chose to demonstrate his love as the way of peace. Isaiah explained this in a prophecy hundreds of years before Yeshua walked the earth:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:4, 5
We can have peace, but for Adam and Eve and all who have come after, peace has come with a high price. It was Yeshua’s punishment that brought us peace. The peace he offers us is a permanent peace, but it is also conditional. It depends on our welcoming and following the One who paid that price—the Prince of Peace, Yeshua. There is hope for peace. How much do you really want it?
- Mishneh Torah, Melakhim XII, 1,5
Director of Communications, Missionary
Susan Perlman is one of the co-founders of Jews for Jesus. Susan is the associate executive director of Jews for Jesus and also director of communications for the organization. She also serves as the editor in chief of ISSUES, their evangelistic publication for Jewish seekers. She left a career track in New York City to help launch Jews for Jesus in San Francisco in the early 1970s. See more here.