Can Inner Peace be Misleading?

Rethinking the common idea of peace as an indicator of God’s will.

Many Christians feel the Church has a corner on the market when it comes to inner peace. Many see it as the mark of the abundant life that Jesus came to bring. But did we miss the message of Jesus as the suffering servant, showing us the way to life?

If the Gospel is continually comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, we need to understand pain and its place in our lives. At times, I wonder if our hunger for peace has allowed us to neglect our own pain as well as the pain of others, and so miss the road to freedom and redemption that we are all aching for (Romans 8:22-25).

If most of us are honest, we tend to believe that God will give us a special peace before we discern what His will is.

I remember activist and author John Perkins one talking about pain, suffering and the will of God with a group of curious students. He said, “God either calls us from pain or to pain to minister to others in our calling.” To some of the folks around the table, this was bad news—and certainly the opposite of where a college degree is “supposed” to take you-a passport to the American dream.

If most of us are honest, we tend to believe that God will give us a special peace before we discern what His will is. We say things like, “I just didn’t have a peace about it,” or, “I’m really waiting on God’s peace before I make that decision.” I fear that this approach is more closely linked to our deceitful desires than we are willing to admit. We want to believe that God is good, but have a hard time hearing him when we’re not at peace. C.S. Lewis says it this way in The Problem of Pain,

“We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful ... the full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain.”

It’s not wrong to long for peace, but it is theologically incorrect to use it as a compass to discover God’s will. We cannot follow Christ faithfully unless we are following Him into the world’s pain, tension and aching complexity. We must remember we follow a King who enters a broken world, then willingly chooses the Cross (John 10:17-18). And for us, this means tension is normal and comfort may be concerning. Living in the hard places of life exposes one’s faith and character, and can allow it to deepen or cause it to die away. Sometimes waiting for peace can keep us from where God is asking us to be.

The paradox of peace is that if you long to have it you may never find it without walking through some uncomfortable terrain. And actually, when we stop desperately and idolatrously longing to find peace and fulfillment around every corner, in every relationship, and in all aspects of our work, we will be free to healthily engage the troubles, problems and pains in our life. We need to develop the wisdom for living a life that is comfortable with being uncomfortable, and accept the fact that it sometimes doesn’t feel good to be a Christian on the straight and narrow.

I have found that no matter how firm or unstable our faith foundation is, we are constantly trying to make sense of what it means to follow Jesus who brings abundant new life amidst the harshness and pain of reality. As Christians who worship a God of hope, it can be frustratingly difficult to understand how pain and discomfort play into our journey of faith. We tend to rush past our discomfort and forget to discern what God may want to show us in an effort to find the “peace that passes all understanding.”

It’s not wrong to long for peace, but it is theologically incorrect to use it as a compass to discover God’s will.

Longing or praying for peace isn’t wrong, but sometimes we forget wrestling with God—like Jacob—and the hard issues of life is often where we find blessings (Genesis 32:24-32).

Current research about the spiritual lives of teens and young adults has found that most self-identified Christians could be accurately characterized as “moralistic, therapeutic, Deists.” Simply put, this means many people believe God wants us to be good or at least better than bad people like Hitler and we’ll go to heaven if we are (Moralistic), God’s main job is to make us feel good about ourselves and remain happy on our journey (Therapeutic), and God is not actively involved in the world (Deists).

This worldview keeps one from owning their depravity, trusting in grace and justification through Christ alone, and recognizing the painful process of sanctification. In this approach to following Jesus, there is no place for ambiguity, tension, struggle or any sense of anxiety. It’s a lot easier to believe that abundant life comes without pain and struggle. This mentality, however, directly opposes the type of self-denying life Jesus lived (Luke 22:42), and the inward dying and external pain Paul wrote about (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Romans 5:3-5).

This is exactly why a life spent in pursuit of peace can be dangerous. C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity, “Comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with—and, in the end, despair.” In other words, pain may get in the way of our pursuit of peace in the answers we seek, but it is paradoxically the way to which we are called.

And if we run from tension and pain, we may just miss our calling. Living in the center of life’s tensions in our faith journeys, relationships and workplaces will help us cling to and find hope, while fighting off despair. This tension field is a hard place to live in, but of one thing we can be sure: God is at work in both your peace and your pain.

26 Comments

Zac Northen

5

Zac Northen commented…

Thanks for your thoughts James. I agree! A lack of peace shouldn't necessarily keep us from doing the right thing (with wise counsel). But the flip side is also true- a full amount of peace can deceivingly convince someone that they are doing the right thing when, in fact, they are not.

It is risky to move without peace, but it can be equally risky/destructive to not move at all or to wait for peace in order to justify the fear that you have in making a decision. We can easily find peace by numbing our pain over time, but sooner or later, that will catch up to us. Wisdom and a secure identity in Christ and the deep trust in God's goodness moves one to take risks in life-especially if it invovles acting in mercy, justice, and humility.

Jason Barnes

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Jason Barnes replied to Zac Northen's comment

I think it's impossible for a person not to know if they are doing the right thing or not. All you have to do is check your motive, "Why am I doing this?" If it lines up with God's Word then that's your peace, if not then don't do it. We play too many games with God.

Zac Northen

5

Zac Northen replied to Jason Barnes's comment

This can be tricky. I once heard a wise, God-fearing man say that our our way in life is directed by our wants and that our wants come from where we place our delights. So, if we delight in truth, we may find that we want to do what's right-even if it hurts.

Benjamin Eberly

1

Benjamin Eberly replied to Zac Northen's comment

Isaiah 26:3 is a very important scripture when we talk about peace. Inner peace is a deceptive term. What many people are looking for is inner calm. True inner peace is a knowing that you are doing exactly what the Father wills. It is only then that you are in the PERFECT will of God. Many people forget that Jesus said we would experience pain, suffering and trials for His Name. However we all have an assignment and must carry it out. This means that we all must prayerfully discover what our specific orders are. I am reminded of the day I joined the U.S. Army I received orders to report to Fort Sill, Ok. I didn't even know that this place existed until I had those orders in my hands. In the same way each of us as Christians need to find out what our specific orders are. That is where having that peace is important. I was thinking about some missionaries who were taken out of the car they were in by Muslim soldiers and told that they must renounce Christ or die. Those soldiers would later testify that what lead them to repentance what the peace that those missionaries displayed as they were killed. Where does that come from? How in the face of certain death can one calmly look a soldier in the eyes and say " Kill me because I know in whom I believe"? The only answer I can find is Peace that passes all understanding. That is the peace that I will follow!

Jason Barnes

19

Jason Barnes commented…

Often times people get too relaxed in peace simply because there is no threat before their eyes. Also I feel that we give the wrong definition of peace. For example, Jesus said "Blessed is the peacemaker, for he shall be called a child of God" Not all peace is harmonious. If you slapped me, I have the choice of making it a peaceful situation by walking away, refraining from striking back. Doesn't mean we have to live in harmony, hold hands, walk through the flowers together. A cease-fire is a act of peace, doesn't mean that each country likes each other afterwards. Jesus lived a life of sorrows but had peace in knowing that He is the Son. We live in a broken, fallen world, and the pie in the sky perspective is not peace at all, in fact it causes us to run from our mission on earth.

flakfizer

14

flakfizer commented…

I have a fundamental problem with this article. This quote encapsulates it: "It’s not wrong to long for peace, but it is theologically incorrect to use it as a compass to discover God’s will. We cannot follow Christ faithfully unless we are following Him into the world’s pain, tension and aching complexity." The article implies that one cannot be at peace while at the same time experiencing pain. Paul knew that prison and hardship awaited him on his journey to Jerusalem, but he seemed at peace about it. The three young Hebrew men seemed quite at peace as they entered the fiery furnace. I think the word "peace" is being used here in strange way, in a way that implies outward peace, when the topic was supposedly inner peace.

Zac Northen

5

Zac Northen replied to flakfizer's comment

Thank you for these thoughts. I appreciate your critical eye to this topic. I agree with what you are saying, but please know that I am not implying that one cannot be at peace while at the same time experience pain. I know for a fact that God can grant one peace in the midst of a tough decision or even after making a difficult decision-for I have been blessed by this many times. However, I think there is a danger in trying to formulate God's will by waiting for peace because it can be such a tricky thing to sense or know at times. Our hearts our deceitful and our thoughts are often not His thoughts. Because of our finiteness, we cannot rely our our ability to detect God-ordained vs. self-deceiving peace in every and all circumstances. Again, this is where the benefit of community can help one discern what God may be saying in a given situation.

On the flip side, there are examples of people (like Jonah) who are completely at peace with going against the direct will of God. Even after he listens and obeys, Jonah is still filled with anguish and lack of peace.

Sometimes God will give peace before, during, and after a decision. Sometimes he won't give peace and confirmation until after a decision is made-perhaps years later. Knowing that one is obeying and submitting to the will of God can bring inner peace/rest/freedom, but will usually bring external pain because it invovles self-denying and an others-centered way of living. We just need to becareful about what we think we deserve when we are doing what is right.

Tyler Brooks

1

Tyler Brooks commented…

Great article Zac! I appreciate the emphasis on seeking Gods will while expecting pain/troubles. Focusing on truth and obedience will naturally lead to peace even in the midst of pain. It also serves as a reminder that its very possible to be "at peace" with a wrong/sinful decision. This is a topic that has been on my mind lately (experiencing peace in pain & adversity) and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on it.
I hope you and the family are doing well.

Raphael Braun

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Raphael Braun commented…

I believe, that some people hear others talking about peace and confuse it with a cosy nice comfortable feeling. That kind of peace is dangerous to follow, but there definitely is a peace from god that can guide your decisions, but it is a peace that aligns with the truth and feels different than the nice and cosy fake-peace.

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