In dark and harrowing times, there’s a dread that comes from hearing a phone ring. In the course of one year, my family struggled through relational catastrophes, chronic illness, and the death of someone so dear that the grief was almost overwhelming. After months of loss, my body would reflexively tense with every flash of the caller ID. My mind, conditioned by catastrophe, kept warning me that more was coming.
The present moment feels eerily similar. Bad news lights up my phone—rising COVID cases, a new political scandal, a plummeting stock market—and without looking, my heart races, and that familiar dread fills me again.
In a quest to keep that fear and anxiety at bay, many of us find comfort in the company of those who are like-minded, kindred spirits who provide the camaraderie we need to face a hostile world. But if we aren’t careful, our communities can become tribal, closed off from outside thoughts, and hostile to both new ideas and new people.
Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, succinctly describes how the very comfort we seek in these communities can first insulate and then, ironically, isolate us. “Polarization,” he explains, “is like powerful magnets placed throughout our ideological spectrum. They pull us apart and clump us into tribes. We have a hard time breaking away from the magnetic security of being with like-minded people, who reinforce our like-mindedness. Efforts to move toward others must labor against that pull.”
Though these like-minded communities may soothe our anxieties and fears, we must not let this magnetic pull separate us from those outside our tribes. Eliminating our differences can’t be the goal. Instead, we must pursue true peace, that which both soothes our souls and extends an invitation of peace to others.
Throughout the Bible, we are given insight into how to pursue reciprocal, mutually beneficial peace. While many of these scriptures are found in the New Testament, three Old Testament passages show us how God has long made a pathway for communal peace.
I Will Surely Bless You
In Genesis 22, right after God provides Abraham with a sacrifice in place of Isaac, the angel of the Lord declares:
By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will multiply your descendants like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will possess the gates of their enemies. And through your offspring all nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice (Genesis 22:16-18).
Not only will Abraham and his descendants be blessed due to his obedience, but “all nations of the earth will be blessed” because Abraham obeyed God.
God blesses Abraham, but not in isolation. There’s a specific, individual blessing God extended to Abraham—he will be the father of all nations—but the full beauty of the blessing comes from the way it extends beyond him. God’s blessing flows outward to Abraham’s family and, further, to every individual and nation on earth. Why? Because God’s blessings are communal.
As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” God does not merely want to calm the storms in our individual souls or secure surface-level peace between peoples. He wants restoration of the wholeness that He created in Genesis 1—a good garden inhabited by good people made in His image. This desire for goodness is not restricted to our in-groups and communities; it extends to all people. This is the image we bear—the image of a loving, peaceful God who looks upon others with compassion and does not seek to separate personal peace from communal blessing.
As you reflect on the way God has blessed His people and the ways His people, in turn, bless the world, consider the blessings He has bestowed upon you. Consider what these blessings may mean for others, both inside your community and out. These blessings may take the form of spiritual gifts, personality traits, material possessions, talents, or ideas, whatever good you have comes from God. How can sharing that goodness with others help you further embrace the blessings God has bestowed upon you, thereby bringing peace to your own spirit?
This isn’t a call to exhaust yourself or to expend energy you don’t have. Rather, it’s a call to embrace God’s invitation. It’s a call to rest a moment, consider what He’s given you, and then, as recognition and gratitude rise in you, to bless those who are in need of God’s grace and goodness. When you do this, you will find that God delights at how the world is blessed through His children.
If It Prospers, You Too Will Prosper
During the Israelite exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter “to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:1).
I don’t know about you, but if I were in exile and a prophet wrote a letter to me and my people, I’d be expecting a word from the Lord declaring that freedom was soon to come. Imagine it: You and your family, uprooted and afraid, likely mourning the loss of beloved friends and relatives, gather to hear the letter from the prophet.
Surely the Lord will free us, you may think. Surely, we will be restored to Jerusalem and recreate our way of life.
Then, you hear it:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce’ (Jeremiah 29:4-5).
I’m sorry, what? Maybe I misheard. The letter must have said, “Do not build houses and settle down,” right? This is not our home!
But the message continues:
Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (Jeremiah 29:6-7).
How could He possibly want us to build a flourishing life here? How could He want us to seek the peace and prosperity of the nation that murdered our loved ones and stole our home?
When we look at the world around us, it can be easy to shake our heads at perceived godlessness. It can be easy to cloister ourselves off into protected sects, performing our holiness for God and trying to keep the world and the people in it at arm’s length. However, we are called to do something far harder. We are called to operate as lights in the world, full of wisdom and love, trusting in God as we “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which [He] has carried us into exile.”
I wonder how long it took the Israelites to remember the core of the Abrahamic blessing. I wonder how long it took to remember that God said He would not just bless them, but would bless all nations through them. I’m sure it would have been hard to accept the idea that this blessing could extend even to a nation that had forcefully captured their families and friends. Yet, that is exactly what God called them to do. Today, thousands of years later, God still calls His people to find peace and to extend it to others, even in seemingly dreadful circumstances.
Seek Peace and Pursue It
From time to time, we’ve all said something like, “I just need some peace and quiet.” However, I wonder if this phrasing is flawed. When I say this, I’m typically not thinking of myself as the person in control of creating peace. Instead, I think of peace as something I have to be given, something to which I’m just a recipient.
Yet, in Psalm 34, David writes, “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Since we know that God does not command us to do anything that He does not also equip us to do through the power of the Spirit, this means that peace is mine to both seek and pursue. These are two active words that stand in stark opposition to the idea that I should be waiting upon the world around me to offer me peace.
What might it look like for us to seek and pursue peace? In Psalm 34, the word “peace” is translated from the Hebrew word “shalom” (שָׁלוֹם). But shalom is a more active and muscular word than the English word “peace,” which often refers to a mere absence of conflict or chaos. Shalom, in Psalm 34, reminds us of Jeremiah 29 when God called the Israelites to cultivate the ground in their new land and to cultivate relationships with their new neighbors for the sake of communal welfare. They weren’t just making a life; they were seeking and pursuing peace, wholeness, and building harmony.
Sometimes seeking peace will look like walking straight into the fray. At other times, it will look like resting, retreating, and welcoming others to do the same. When we embrace peace, when we embrace the call to wholeness and goodness, and when we share all of us with others, then through our fears and anxieties will be soothed, through us all the nations of the earth will be blessed.