An Ode to Shalom
Somewhere in those imaginative hopes between our richest memory of love and the heart’s deep longing soars a dream. Protest chants crackle with its fire. A child’s laughter sings its possibility. Old men sigh at its stubborn distance. Alpine brooks babble on each spring that it is a promise, and a warm meal with friends and family remind that it could be here—right now.
Language stretches its descriptive powers wide as they go to express the dream. Words tumble from the tongues of poets and the pages of scripture, linking arms to capture the inexpressible:
Completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety, soundness, security.
Tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony.
The absence of agitation, discord, violence, fear, enmity.
Relationship, order, stewardship, beauty, rhythm.
Friendship, intimacy, fidelity, community.
Liberty, freedom, life.
Alone they only echo the freight born in the dream. But together, together they recall a story which is at once ancient, personal, and cosmic. The dream transcends us because it was not first ours: it is the dream of God for his creation.
If there is a word that comes closest to gathering the streams of Divine passion into a coherent pattern—into a vision for every life, time, and place—that word is shalom.
Shalom evokes the holy dance of creation and recreation, pointing back to what was in the beginning and will be in the end. Shalom is both our telos and ultimate a priori longing. Around us, the land retains shalom’s fingerprints while history bends indefensibly toward its destination. Shalom was the “good” before the serpent’s temptation and the power of sin. Now, it is the goal toward which God draws the firmament—already glimpsed but not yet fulfilled. It is God’s all-consuming intent. Shalom stands across the bridge of salvation, the outcome of liberation, the joyful communion of the reconciled.
It is the character of the Kingdom of God.
Not only God’s creational intent, shalom is the Divine personality calling out to our oft-obscured imago Dei. The Trinity dreams of shalom because the I Am is shalom. God’s own relational harmony constantly reaches out with other-oriented love. Out of love, the Lord imprints the option for shalom into all he makes. God’s internal lifestyle offers the blueprint for just, righteous, and reconciled community—the prerequisites of shalom.
Direct and literal definitions seem to fail. They are too flat for its heights, too coarse for its delicate edges. It defies the dry and reductively academic. Shalom is beauty demanding art.
Shalom is better captured in a toddler’s delight than an academic’s proof. It is the raw vulnerability of finally knowing and being known. It is tear-filled laughter. It is being altogether home and together, in love and whole, joined in intimacy with all without barrier or breakdown, violence or shame. It is to behold the terrifying presence of God and be swept up breathtakingly as his beloved.
Though pregnant with emotion, God’s work does not begin or end in abstraction. Shalom is unrelentingly located, historical, political and economic. It takes hold in the midst of homes and street corners, parks and marketplaces, snow-heavy peaks and courtrooms. Shalom is equitable and abundant fresh food, fulfilling work, and neighborhood safety. It is flourishing watersheds, caretaking economies, and restorative policies.
Shalom is glimpsed in the good farmer’s healing care of land and livestock. Old growth forests teeming with synergistic life hum its wonders. It is suggested each time a horizon erupts in symphony at the sun's comings and goings. The still contentment of misty mornings, a glass-topped lake split by a loon, a salmon run returning to their breeding waters through a healthy spring, the introverted blooms of a desert shrub—it is each member of creation communing in mutual interdependence. Where there is shalom all have a place. All thrive through God-given, others-blessing self-expression.
Shalom lies in the city where every neighbor has a voice, that cultivates each block with equal care, and gives as much as it takes. It is seen in public squares where differences converge in compassion, streets that teem with all things human, families that are whole and full of affection, neighbors who look out for one another’s needs, and industries that replace exploitation with stewardship. Shalom appears in homes where strangers find welcome, where the vulnerable become the empowered instead of the oppressed.
Scripture drips with images and stories to enrapture our minds and energize our bodies for participation in God’s dream. We see it in a garden walk with the Maker. It is in the thrill of finally entering the Land. It strikes us in the audacity of lions lying peacefully alongside lambs. It is the foolishness of swords beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. It is Solomon’s rapture at his bride. It is seeking the peace of a city that just conquered you. It is enemies made friends, the last made first, the poor inheriting the earth, the blind with sight returned, captives set free. It is a father’s prodigal embrace of his shameful son. It is a table old enemies gather around in fellowship. It is every tribe reconciled and equally honored before the throne, raising every tongue in undiluted worship. It is a rock rolled away and a tomb laid open empty. It is a day, at long last, glory hallelujah, when the heavens are no longer brass, a city without need of sun or moon because the radiant presence of God beams on unfettered display.
Shalom is the story our Lord invites us to join. More than a projection of our best thoughts or a utopic flight of imagination, it resonates with us "because the creator has embedded this desire deep within the core of our being" (Woodley, 11). It is the unfathomable, indescribable will of God for the community of creation.
Oh, it is good, my friends. It is better than you can imagine.