A Prayer for Shalom

Gull on cairn in New Zealand

Whenever I call my youngest daughter, she greets me with “Shalom.” I’m not sure why she took up that practice, but I like it. Lately I’ve come across the word again in some of my reading, and it piqued my curiosity enough to do a little research. Wow! What a rich and nuanced word. If we could sum up the world’s deepest need in a single word, perhaps it would be shalom.

In the Bible, the Hebrew word shalom is often translated as “peace,” as in Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” That gets at the basic idea, but the English language cannot begin to capture the rich layers of shalom.

Beyond simply an absence of conflict, the word evokes harmony, completeness, tranquility and flourishing. It conveys a prayer for the kind of well-being that only comes from a complete alignment with our Creator.

In his book Generous Justice, Tim Keller defines shalom this way: “It means complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension — physical, emotional, social and spiritual — because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy.”

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. takes it deeper yet in this quote from his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be:

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets called shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” 

The way things ought to be. Harmony, well-being, right relationships, flourishing. Picture the garden of Eden, the environment God created and intended for us. Then picture the New Jerusalem, the place He’s preparing for us now.

In its everyday use, people use shalom as a greeting, meaning both “hello” and “goodbye.” At first it seems a shame to reduce such a deep word to ritual small talk, but on second thought, it’s absolutely perfect. Wouldn’t our outlook change if we wrapped our every coming and going in a prayer for shalom, the way things ought to be?

This week we face mid-term elections fraught with vitriol and rampant fear mongering. We stand on the cusp of a holiday season sure to ratchet up demands on our finances and energy. And at every turn, we hear warnings of new Covid variants and pending recession. If despair feels like the only rational response, that’s not crazy.

And yet, this is not the way things ought to be. We know that someday all will be made right. In the meantime, what if we began to greet one another with shalom, and parted ways with another shalom? What if, in the midst of all that is not right, that one-word prayer kept our hope and focus fixed on the One who will one day restore everything to the way things ought to be?

Shalom, my friends.


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