The word shalom is a rich and heavily loaded word. It is impossible to simply insert an english word to use in its place. We have tried to do this by using the word “peace”. Shalom does mean peace, but that merely scratches the surface. It is so much more! Author and theologian, Cornelius Plantinga, describes shalom as this,
In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Saviour opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be. (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995, Wm. B. Eerdmans, page 10)
The underlying intent is that this wholeness (shalom) is given to us by God and can only be fully realized in relationship with him. True shalom is both an internal and external condition independent of circumstance. To be welcomed by our Creator is to experience a state of sheer contentment and peace with God, ourselves, and all of creation, as well as a deep knowing of God’s love.
The concept of shalom is all-encompassing. We are not only invited into the shalom of God but we are also called to bring his peace to others. When Jewish people used the word shalom as a greeting or a goodbye, it was also a blessing. They were bestowing God’s favour in the form of wholeness and restoration over the other person.
In our world, we often talk about peace in terms of the absence of war or conflict. As we look to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war or the more recent conflict in Israel, we pray for shalom. We cry out for peace and for a ceasefire. Shalom, as God designed it, is also the presence of something more. Shalom is not merely a ceasefire but rather both parties working together to restore what is broken. This kind of peace is not only for countries at war, but also for relationships which includes marriages, family, workplace, schoolmates, all friendships and acquaintances.
The shalom way of thinking is that life is messy, complicated, and broken with lots of moving parts. Whenever something in life is missing or out of alignment, whether a relationship or a situation, then shalom breaks down. Life is no longer whole so it needs to be restored…
True wholeness is not merely bringing the conflict or misalignment to an end. That is only half the story. If we stop there, we miss the best part of the story. True wholeness, or shalom, is going full circle, repairing the damage, returning things to new, and making things right.
This is what cultivating shalom is all about. It is living a life of action rather than complacency. Becoming people of peace requires intention and work. It is setting our eyes on God’s vision for the world and arranging our lives around that. It is about embracing the new life that Jesus ushered in through his death and resurrection. As we live this out, we catch glimpses of the kingdom of God as he intended. At the same time we are enjoying these kingdom breakthroughs, we are also given a palpable hope for a time that is still to come, when all things will be restored.