I used to think that some people were called to be peacemakers and others were not, and I would have put myself in the category of not. You see, I’m naturally a conflict avoider and a people pleaser. I don’t like to rock the boat, and I’m uncomfortable with the messiness of disagreements. I think back to high school. Whenever there was a fight, most people would flock to it, wanting to have a front row seat to the drama. I was the kid who was running away, hoping that someone would put a stop to it. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the strife.
Yet, at some point in adulthood, I began to learn the importance of engaging conflict in health ways – rather than avoiding – for the sake of healthy relationships. And then 2016 came around. In the midst of the Presidential campaign and election, things got really messy. The division and the hateful rhetoric broke my heart. This time, instead of running away from the strife, I felt God calling me to be a peacemaker in the midst of it.
As I began to intentionally learn about what it means to be a peacemaker, I started to understand that peacemaking is not something that some people are called to and others are not. Rather, peacemaking is the point of the biblical narrative, and it is the gospel. Therefore, if we claim to follow Jesus, we are called to be peacemakers in the world.
Creation and the Fall
The Bible is the story of a peacemaking God. From the very beginning, God was bringing forth life and order and beauty where there had previously only been darkness and disorder. He completed the heavens and the earth and everything in them, culminating in humanity. Humans were created in his very image, giving them inherent dignity and goodness and value. They were created by love for love, and they had everything they needed. God had created everything just as it was intended to be and he said that it was very good.
God was creating shalom, which is the Hebrew word for peace that is used in the Bible. Shalom is not just about an absence of conflict or inner calm. Shalom means wholeness, to be without lack, the state where everything is as it should be. Though the word shalom is not used in the creation story, that is what we’re seeing. God completed the universe exactly as he wanted it to be and it was good.
But we know how this story goes. It only takes until the third chapter of Genesis to see that God’s perfect creation starts to break down as a direct result of people not trusting God. They didn’t believe that God loved them and wanted good things for them. They didn’t trust in their own inherent dignity. Instead, they fell for the lie that they didn’t have enough, and they reached out and grasped for what they thought they deserved.
Now, where there had once been a perfect world, there was now enmity, pain, oppression, toil, and death. All this was in opposition to the shalom that God had intended in the beginning.
And yet, God responded with grace. God still loved his people, just as a parent loves their child. He still saw the good in them, and he wanted to be with him. So he began to make a way for restoration. He made a way to bring us back to his shalom.
Jesus is the Ultimate Peacemaker
God’s plan for restoration needed a Rescuer. Because we’re all broken, God knew that we needed a perfect human (which can only be himself) to show us how we’re really supposed to live and to break the power of sin and death. Thus, Jesus entered as the ultimate Peacemaker.
In Ephesians 2, Paul sums up the gospel in this way… Because of God’s great love for us, he sent Christ Jesus to give us new life (Eph. 2:1-13) and to create a new, reconciled humanity (Eph. 2:14-22). He says that Jesus came to remove all the barriers that stand in the way between us and God and between us and each other. Through Jesus’ life and death, he “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14).
When Paul spoke of that dividing wall, his original audience would have called to mind the thick wall in the temple that separated the Jewish worshippers from the Gentiles. They might have pictured the signs that were posted all around that wall letting the Gentiles know that were unwelcome on the other side and that if they approached, they would be killed. You see, racism is nothing new. It’s been present since shortly after that story of creation and the fall. But that was never the way that God intended people to live, and he sent Jesus to destroy those barriers along with any others that might separate us from him and from each other.
Yet, here’s the problem… Jesus tore down the dividing walls of hostility, but we keep building them up.
Dividing Walls of Hostility
There have been different iterations of that dividing wall throughout history. In our current context, the “dividing wall of hostility” that pops into my mind is the wall at the US-Mexico border. I’ve been on the Mexico side of wall. It’s built in such a way that you can see through it to the other side, but for many who are living in desperate circumstances south of the border, it’s a daily reminder that they aren’t wanted on this side. Our current President won an election by chanting, “Build that wall!” and the majority of the White evangelical church chanted it along with him. We have to grieve that fact in light of the gospel.
Of course, there are many other invisible walls. There is the wall between the church and the LGBTQ community, the wall between Democrats and Republicans, the wall between people who say “Black Lives Matter” and those who say “All Lives Matter,” the wall between those who wear masks and those who refuse to, and walls within the church that separate us from those who don’t believe or live out their faith exactly as we do.
My friends, Jesus came as a peacemaker. He came to restore his broken world, but sometimes even those of us who claim to follow this ultimate Peacemaker participate in building up or at least supporting some of those dividing walls of hostility that he tore down.
My heart breaks because I think that so often in the church, we have missed the point of God’s mission altogether. We have made ourselves as individuals the focus and have neglected God’s desire and plan to restore a broken world. We have used Scripture as a weapon when it’s really a story of a God who loves us and accepts us. We have focused more on individual morality than on the well-being of all humanity. We have worried more about what we think we deserve than about giving of ourselves to make sure that others have what they need. I say that implicating myself as much as anyone else.
Join in the Restoration
When we understand Jesus as Peacemaker, the call to repent and believe does not mean that I just say I believe that Jesus died for me. It means that I admit that I’ve been living for myself, but that my heart and mind have been changed and therefore my actions will change. It means that I will start following Jesus by living the way that God originally intended for us to live.
We look back to the creation story to understand the shalom that God originally intended for us and to which he is still calling us. Shalom looks like loving relationship between us and God and between us and others. It looks like partnership, in which we work together with mutuality, respect, and humility. It looks like stewardship, in which we care for others and care for all of God’s creation, without taking advantage or acting in a way that will bring destruction. It looks like vulnerability and intimacy, in which we see others and allow ourselves to be seen. It looks like abundance, in which we believe there really is enough to go around and therefore choose generosity rather than greed.
The good news is that this is not something we have to wait to experience. Though we won’t see the complete fulfillment of God’s restoration until Jesus comes again (whatever that may look like), we are invited to join in with God’s restoration and reconciliation of all people and creation now.
Friend, you are called to be a peacemaker. You are called to bring God’s shalom to a broken and hurting world. How will you respond to that call?
To learn more about peacemaking, check out some of my favorite peacemakers and organizations that have taught me so much...
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