Understanding Shalom

“Shalom.” Today, that word is used as a greeting in Jewish circles, just as many Americans might say “hi” or “hello.” Typically, we translate shalom as meaning peace, but in that one Hebrew word rests God’s original design for all of creation.

Shalom is a Hebrew noun that refers to the wholeness, perfection, prosperity and peace of God’s creation. This noun encompasses God’s vision for how He wants His creation to function. When He created the world, He webbed all things together with Him in perfect harmony, delight and peace. Genesis says that God walked in the Garden of Eden during the cool of day. God walked along the same paths as humans. What an incredible picture.

With the fall, however, shalom was vandalized and perverted. Adam and Eve broke the natural order of placing God first when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From then on, sin, pain and selfishness have taken over God’s creation; natural disasters plague the world and creation no longer has direct communication with God. After the fall, when Adam and Eve heard God walking in the garden, they no longer walked with Him. Instead, they hid from Him in their shame.

God desires to bring back shalom order, shalom relationships and shalom rhythm to the world. And He will. The Hebrew word shalom is related to the Hebrew verb “shalem,” which means to repay in full, to make restitution, to restore and to make peace. God has enacted shalem through Christ’s death on the cross, but shalom will not fully be restored until Christ comes to earth again.

In his book, Walking With the Poor (Orbis), Bryant Myers writes, “From the day our first parents walked out of the garden, estranged from God, each other and the earth itself, God has been at work redeeming the fallen creation, its people and its social systems.” We are a people disconnected from our creator, but God wants to bring us back to Him.

So what do we do about shalom now to advance God’s kingdom work while we are here on earth? Three things: pray, celebrate and work.

First, we must pray for shalom to increase in the world. Jesus taught us to pray in this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10, TNIV). We are to pray for God’s will—shalom—to be done on earth as it is in heaven and as it will be when Christ comes again.

Second, we must celebrate shalom’s presence in the world. A key aspect of shalom is developing a Sabbath rhythm. God didn’t rest on the seventh day because He was exhausted from all His hard work. In fact, Psalms 121 says, “He who watches over you will not slumber.” God is infinitely omnipotent; He does not need sleep. Rather, God created the Sabbath out of a desire to simply delight in His creation. He wanted to sit back and enjoy the world He created.

As people created in God’s image, God calls us to delight in Him as well. “Our culture’s emphasis on activity at the expense of life-giving rhythms, including rest, has brought tragic consequences upon our bodies, our relationships, our environment,” says Terry McGonigal, PhD., who is currently working on a manuscript about shalom called My Peace I Give You: Shalom Is God’s Gift and Our Calling.

God has commanded us to honor the Sabbath so we will take a full day to delight in Him. David talks about delighting in the Lord’s salvation and, on multiple occasions, the psalmist says he delights in God’s laws and commands. On your next Sabbath, take a walk and reflect on God’s creation, spend two hours reading His word and talking with Him, take a nap, read a book. Human beings need rest and joy in order to have renewed spirits for the upcoming week. We need to take joy in God’s love and celebrate shalom by cultivating shalom rhythm in our lives. We must slow down, take a break from the busyness and honor the Sabbath.

Finally, we must also work for the restoration of shalom in all our relationships. Understanding shalom as God’s original design for creation shows us how to relate to each other, to nature and to God.

Every relationship was broken as a result of the fall. Marriage has experienced significant detriments. Instead of becoming “one flesh” as God intended married couples to do, many marriages end in divorce and animosity. Friendships have become popularity competitions instead of fulfilling relationships, nations are at war and the wealthy often neglect those in need.

God calls us to love justice and kindness in order to re-establish shalom in this world. In Isaiah, the Lord says He desires us “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.” Furthermore, we are to share our food with the hungry, He says. Instead of keeping our God-given blessings for ourselves, God commands us to share freely.

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Myers writes, “God’s goal is to restore us to our original identity, as children reflecting God’s image, and to our original vocation as productive stewards living together in just and peaceful relationships.” God created an incredible world for us, but we have not fulfilled our duty as stewards. God originally put Adam in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). We, however, have not taken care of the resources God gave us. As a result, weeds overrun our gardens, hurricanes destroy our cities and gas prices skyrocket in response to our ever-depleting oil supply.

However, God promises that one day “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). In the meantime, as stewards of God’s creation, we ought to recycle, live simply and take care of our resources.

We can take comfort in this promise from 1 Corinthians: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” God does not need our help, but He desires us to work for the restoration of shalom for our own sakes and to draw us closer to His heart. The work we do for Him will not be in vain.

When we serve God and worship Him, we get back to the harmonious, close relationship we were designed to have with Him. Colossians says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Thankfully, God does not ask us to bridge the gap between Him and us. Instead, He has freely given us His only son as a peace offering, a sacrifice to repair our world, our relationships and our souls.

The least we can do is work towards shalom in thanks for God’s great love and in delight of His good works. Even though we live in a broken world, Jesus has given us this encouragement: “Peace [shalom] I leave with you; my peace [shalom] I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

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