Peace that is based on avoidance is not peace. So long as a troubling thing exists, we may choose not to look at it and so be calm, but our peace will always remain under threat, and that nagging voice beneath our calm will never quite shut up.
Jesus’ life was not free of suffering or anguish, but it was entirely free of avoidance. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, he entered into those very things which we are afraid of, which we assume will destroy peace in our own lives. And yet… he was the Prince of Peace.
Does God have peace? Certainly God suffers anguish in the face of evil. Surely he wept over the world in Noah’s time, as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, as a husband weeps over an unfaithful bride. God is not threatened by evil, but he is grieved by it, and fiercely angry against it. There is no emotional vacuum here.
When we face trauma, we repress it. We dissociate from it. In the face of suffering that we are certain will destroy us, we flee. Yet God is not a God of repression or dissociation. He sees all, acknowledges all, enters into all, bears all, and overcomes all.
Jesus Christ is the one who is strong enough to look full in the face of evil and suffering and yet never turn his gaze away. He’s the one who is strong enough to take all suffering into his own body and bear it. He rationalizes nothing, acknowledges the fullness of our guilt and he has undergone the full wrath of God.
He does not, will not, deny the truth. In him there is no darkness at all. He brings all things into the light – into the truth. There are no dark corners in his life. To God, the night is as bright as the day! In him is life, and that life is the light of men.
We have a problem – our sad human lives are based on avoidance. Our very sanity depends on denying our sin, on justifying it, and on ignoring the truth of ourselves and our world. There are things on this earth, within ourselves, so horrible that were we to acknowledge them we might go insane from the grief, helplessness, and guilt.
We cannot read all that is in the news, or if we can, it is because the papers themselves cannot not bring themselves to name or print the fullness of the evil truth. Dogs are prominently saved from housefires while children die invisibly.
Jesus comes with the agenda of bringing all things into his light. We cannot see everything at once, as God does, (nor does he ask us to) but we can no longer pretend to ignore or avoid any troubling thing and still expect full peace. Jesus Christ has overcome it; he is its victor.
Jesus asks us to trust him and believe in his victory. He bore this trouble, and he is still alive. His explicit promise to us is that even if it kills us also, we will still live.
Our peace is bound to our confession. Where we deny the truth, we deny our own peace. Anything not in the light is a stronghold of darkness, a foothold for avoidance. Jesus had full peace; Jesus was also a man who confessed all and surrendered all. He was a man of no pretension whatsoever.
Jesus life was his Father’s. He surrendered it, and he would not be anxious over it. His emotions were not disconnected, as in one who represses or disassociates from trauma… Jesus suffered anguish, but anguish is not anxiety.
Jesus counsels us that if we do not fall into the earth and die, as a seed does, we will remain alone. But if we die, we will bear much fruit. Servants are found at their master’s side.
Our lives of partial confession, partial submission and partial obedience are riddled with anxiety and fear. How can it be otherwise? Where we are chained, we are not free. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace in Christ Jesus.
This is a frightening thing! Can I honestly say there’s a day in my life when I don’t fight with pride? Day after day I keep discovering new levels to my own ugliness and wickedness, depths I would rather avoid. Every morning, I wake up to a fight, and usually by the afternoon I feel like I’m losing. Can such a man expect peace?
Where I refuse to confess to and repent of my sin, once I see it and know it, the answer is, “No”, and rightfully not! How can I claim an expectation of peace in conscious wrongdoing? Where rebellion thrives there is no peace, by definition. There is only a war zone. God actively opposes the proud.
God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. The Apostle Paul, in writing his letters, greets the churches with the words, “Grace and Peace to you.” The grace and peace that is ours in Christ Jesus is not peace alone, but also grace. God often gives a peace that we do not deserve.
Are there not times when, purely by His grace, God gives us peace that our confession does not warrant, that our submission does not warrant, and that our obedience does not warrant?
Confession, submission and obedience do not bring peace by themselves. Rather, they are the doorway to the promise that, like the dying seed, we will not remain alone. Jesus Christ, the master of the universe, the one who has overcome all suffering, comes to indwell us by His Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. It is his indwelling that brings us peace.
We will not have peace because we are good confess-ers, or submit-ers or obey-ers. We will have peace if God chooses to fill us with his Spirit. We will have peace when we are no longer alone, when we are rooted and grounded in love. How can we have peace, except by God choosing to love us and to be with us?
We do not have to pretend that we will not feel overwhelmed. We do not have to pretend that our minds are greater than they actually are, that we understand suffering… We do not have to pretend that our emotions will not leave us exhausted, worn out, running on empty… this is the truth of our selves, and it is part of our confession.
Though true, our weakness is not all that important in comparison to the overwhelming victory of Jesus Christ. Certainly it feels important. It feels urgent! Sometimes it feels as though we will die. And we may. Across the world, in this moment, some may be dying because of their confession and submission to God. It can happen, it does happen, and it is happening.
The most relevant truth is that we are not alone. Sometimes, by God’s grace, He allows us to feel this truth tangibly through a physical manifestation of His presence. Sometimes, again by His grace, he doesn’t. The truth is the truth, regardless of how we feel about it.
Because we don’t always feel this, because God is invisible and we can’t see him, a step of faith is involved in refusing to avoid. When we confess, we take a step of faith, claiming that we are not alone. There is one with us who has overcome that troubling thing, even if that troubling thing is as severe as our own death.
Our troubling thing may feel perfectly horrible. It may be an experience of evil as dark and vicious, or even more so, than we could ever imagine. There is a reason we are called to fix our minds on and to dwell in the overwhelming glory of the risen and resurrected Christ. Evil is real, it is just less important than Jesus Christ.
The exercise of faith is the destruction of avoidance. If we do not do it, we will not have it. Yet if Christ has truly overcome, there is literally no reason for us not to do it.
Again, when we talk about what we have or do not have, we remember that we serve a gracious God who gives us things we do not deserve. He can give us peace far beyond what our faith deserves, and who can challenge him for being merciful?
God’s peace does not depend on the absence of evil or suffering. There is a final, future resolution that is absolute. God is not threatened. All things will be judged, and all things will be united in Christ. Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning! If God grieves now, it will not be so forever, and he asks us to faithfully believe the same and hope in his Son.
If God is righteous in allowing the wholeness – the shalom – the peace of the world to be marred for a time, if he is right to patiently endure, and even enter into suffering, can I deny the same?
If the peace of the world is shattered yet the peace of God is intact, might the peace of my flesh be shattered and yet the peace of Christ within me remain whole?
Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new.”
If God’s peace is not disturbed over the corruption of the world, because he knows Jesus Christ will make all things new, how should I relate to the corruption of my own body, the turmoil of my own emotions? If God’s peace over the world is founded on the future restoration by, for, and in Christ, shouldn’t my peace over my own troubles be built on the same?
Jesus is, at this very moment, whole and sound, complete and restored. What does that mean to me?