The Peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his son Jesus Christ Our Lord—and the blessing of God Almighty: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you always.
As a priest, I say these words at the close of almost every worship service I lead. The first part of it is a paraphrase of Philippians 4:7. The second part is a priestly blessing in the name of the Triune God.
I’ve been pronouncing this blessing for almost twenty years now. I’ve heard these words, or similar words, pronounced for far longer.
The peace of God which passes all understanding…
What kind of peace is that?
For most of my life I’ve thought that this kind of peace is the peace where all conflict would stop. Where all wars would cease, all political fights would end, all family drama would fade away, and everything would be super-duper chill.
But, I’m beginning to see this blessing, this verse from Paul, as something far different.
If the peace that passes all understanding is merely the absence of outward conflict, what does that do with all the injustices and evil in the world except anesthetize any resistance? What does that do except ensure that those who live under the cloud of injustice remain there in their suffering?
We’ve all lived through moments at home, work, school, etc, that resemble hostage situations more than anything else. Where one person, or one faction of people are the sort where you have to walk around on eggshells—where every second of every day is a game of don’t rock the boat—where the least little thing that goes wrong ends up being an emotional explosion of anger and rage. If you end up making it through a day with no outbreak of anger, that might seem like a victory of peace to an outsider. But, to everyone living in the system who has had clenched jaws, raised blood pressure, and has tipped-toed around every subject brought up, it has absolutely NOT been peaceful in the least. Under the surface it’s a rip current of fear and trembling.
We do not need this kind of peace that masquerades as appeasement and kindliness but which enables all manner of sordidness and affliction to visit themselves on the vulnerable and the despondent.
No. And, I don’t think God needs this kind of peace either. This isn’t the kind of peace that passes understanding—no, this is the kind of “peace” that the poor and downtrodden are all too familiar with. This is the kind of peace that merely wallpapers over evil. This is the kind of peace that makes deals with the devil which allows for some short-term ceasefire, but enables a long-term misery upon those who have known far too much misery already.
No. This is no peace.
The peace which passes understanding, if it’s truly God’s peace has to be a peace which upends injustice and oppression.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
These words of Jesus have vexed preachers for centuries. We’ve sung too many Christmas carols extolling Jesus as the “prince of peace” to then turn around and claim that Jesus isn’t bringing peace after all. (Usually sermons end up being something like, “This thing that Jesus said… he didn’t actually mean that…)
But, what if the problem here isn’t Jesus? What if the problem is our understanding of peace?
What if peace IS the sword – the sword which pierces everything which needs to be overturned in order for real peace to actually come?