As I mentioned last week, in recent days I have found myself considering the whole realm of peace. Having experienced the passing away of two family members this summer, the concept of peace has been on my heart and mind a lot. What is it? How do we get it? And perhaps most importantly, how do we keep it?
What is peace? The definition of peace which sort of jumped off the page for me is that peace is “the absence of war.” An obvious illustration of this is seen in what we call a “peacekeeping force,” an army of armed soldiers who are called to duty to occupy the land between two warring groups or nations. The presence of that armed contingent does not change the attitudes or attractions of either of the two warring parties. It does not bring them together. It merely keeps them apart. These forces are peacekeepers and not peacemakers.
In an effort to come to grips with what peace is all about, Michael Webb tells a parable about a king who announced a painting contest. He was building a new palace, and he wanted the main entrance hall to be decorated with a large work of art. The king envisioned his kingdom as a peaceful land, so whoever’s painting best symbolized peace would win a large cash prize.
Over the next few months, hundreds of paintings arrived at the palace. The king decided on the top two. Before announcing a winner, he hung both paintings in the palace for public viewing.
The first painting was of a majestic lake, so tranquil and still that the lush hills behind it were perfectly mirrored in its reflection. The sky was a brilliant blue with soft, puffy clouds floating above. Wildflowers bursting with color outlined the lake, and a family of deer calmly grazed in a far meadow. All who saw it felt peace and happiness.
The second painting portrayed a tall mountain cliff, rugged and strong. A few small trees grew out of the cracks of the face of the cliff, with gnarled roots clinging for life. A foamy waterfall angrily crashed down the cliff and into the rocky land below. Above, dark ominous clouds loomed, and in the distance lightning flashed. Halfway up the cliff grew a small bush. In its branches, a bird sat in a nest apparently warming her eggs.
After several weeks, the king declared the second painting the winner. Confused and upset, the people asked the king to explain his decision. He said, “Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is a state of mind. Those who experience peace have love in their hearts even when turmoil surrounds them.”
Another Michael, Michael Ramsden, an apologist for the faith, tells of a fellow who was speaking in Asia and asked his audience to close their eyes and imagine peace. After a few seconds the audience was invited to share their mental pictures of peace. One person described a field with flowers and beautiful trees. Another person spoke of snow-capped mountains and an incredible alpine landscape. Still another described the scene of a beautiful, still lake.
After everyone described their mental picture of peace there was one thing common in them all — there were no people in them. Ramsden commented, “Isn’t it interesting, when asked to imagine peace the first thing we do is to eliminate everyone else.”
Is that the picture you have of peace? My suspicion is that if most of us had our way, we would indeed have a much more peaceful life if we could eliminate the people in our lives — the ones who cut us off in traffic, the ones who get in front of us in lines, the ones who do not serve us as fast as we would like — the list could go on forever. I have even heard some of my fellow pastors say (yes, with tongue in cheek!) things like “Church would be a lot better place if it weren’t for the people!”
In Colossians 3:15, we are called to “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts … and be thankful”. No matter what we face, or who we face, God calls us to come to Him with our needs, to “be anxious for nothing,” but pray about everything (Philippians 4:6-7), and the peace of God, which no one can fully understand, will indeed put a garrison around our hearts to protect us and to keep us on track for all that God has for us.
The point of it all is: When peace is elusive in your life, when you are depressed or discouraged or tempted to quit, when people get you down, don’t worry about it, but just pray! Put your issues into the hands of someone who can handle them better than you. The God who knows all about your situation will come alongside you and give you peace in whatever situation you are in. God will guide your steps in whatever way you go.
One more thing about Colossians 3:15: Don’t miss the last part of the verse – be thankful.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]