Friday, July 20, 2012

The Answer Is Not 42 (But Don't Panic)

                If you want to understand my theology; and really, if you want to know me, I guess this is where you should start. You see, I believe that I’ve found the answer to life, the universe, and everything; and, don’t panic now, it’s not 42. The answer is peace.
                What is Peace? Etymology is very interesting to me and an interesting way to look into word meanings. My favorite etymology dictionary is (I highly recommend it) and it says this about peace:
“mid-12c., "freedom from civil disorder," from Anglo-Norm. pes, from O.Fr. pais (11c., Mod.Fr. paix), from L. pacem (nom. pax) "treaty of peace, tranquility, absence of war" (cf. Prov. patz, Sp. paz, It. pace), from PIE *pak- "fasten," related to pacisci "to covenant or agree" (see pact). Replaced O.E. frið, also sibb, which also meant "happiness." Modern spelling is 1500s, reflecting vowel shift.”[1]
I find it very interesting that our English word for peace is linguistically related to the word pact and comes from a Latin word for treaty. This seems to confirm what I find to be the common modern usage of the word to describe the absence of overt conflict. In English, peace means “There is no one currently trying put holes in me or lop off any vital pieces.”
                The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, represents a different take on the idea of peace. Historically, it seems to have been connected with the idea of wholeness or completion. Derivatives of the word pop up in ancient literature describing completed financial transactions, filling, and delivering. This idea then seems to have migrated to a physical sense meaning “No one’s trying to put any holes in me, and all my previous holes have healed. I am complete.” This idea was then metaphorically tied to prosperity, psychological and relational well-being and wholeness. It is a state of completion and fulfillment.
                If we take the Hebrew definition of peace seriously, though, we come upon a new implication. You see, to say that something is complete is to say that it meets a standard of what it is supposed to be. So let’s pretend that I ask you for ½ cup of sugar; now my sentence is meaningless if there is no standard of what a cup is. It makes no sense to speak of something as being complete if there is no measure of what completion means for that something. If we don’t know what a cup is, how will we know when we have half of one? The world works in the same way. We understand that people should not be discriminated against, that the weak should not be enslaved, that people should not have to go hungry, thirsty, or be forced to suffer because of poverty. How do we know? Because even if it’s not explicit, we know in our guts that the world isn’t supposed to work like that. There’s a standard, and those situations don’t meet it.
                So Shalom stems out of an idea of completeness; and the idea of completeness is inherently tied up in the idea of a standard. But standards don’t simply exist in and of themselves, they must be put in place. If no one establishes a standard, then any notion of completion is meaningless. Therefore, standards are dependent on personalities, and absolute shalom must depend on the absolute Personality. Shalom doesn’t simply mean complete, it means complete according to the design of God. Shalom is the world as God meant it to be.
                In the beginning, in the garden, as it were, humanity existed with God in perfect shalom. We had peace because we lived in perfect relationship with God and others just as God intended. And the whole universe functioned perfectly according to God’s design. But there is another important word in the Bible; this word is used for evil, it is the Hebrew word Ra’a. Ra’a comes from a root word that means broken. When humanity said no to God’s plans, we broke shalom. We broke our relationship with God, we broke our relationships with each other, we broke ourselves, we broke the world, and we broke peace.
                Shalom becomes, then, one of if not the most important ideas in Christianity, even in all of human thought, because it is what the entire Divine-human story is about. Shalom is the Eden from which humanity fell, it is the Canaan for which the Israelites searched, and it is the Heaven for which all humanity longs for. Isaiah, by defining shalom as our salvation paved the way for Jesus to be shalom. The Christ, therefore, was not only the means to peace, He embodies Peace. For centuries, people of all races have chased after this idea. Its shadow can be seen in Avalon, Camelot, Shangrila, Eldorado, and the Illysian fields. It is the purpose for which revolutions have been ignited, manifestos written and utopias dreamed. Every word, sentence and paragraph in the Bible revolves around this one single idea: the healing of all relationships, the consummation of peace.
                When I say the word peace, then, this is what I mean; not simply the absence of conflict, but the world as it was meant to be, as God meant it to be. We must understand the Kingdom of God, the divine – human relationship, the end times, and our individual missions through the lens of peace if we are to understand them at all. You see, the answer is not 42; the answer is peace.


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