Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27
It can be hard enough to enjoy peace of mind at a time when bad news is the backdrop for everyday life. But aside from the global problems of today, we may be troubled by the possibility of losing our job, an important relationship on the verge of collapse, the future of our children, health problems, loneliness, the loss of a loved one, or the prospect of one’s own aging and death. We can be shaken by dramatic changes in our world, but small, everyday inconveniences can erode our inner peace just as easily.
Even when life flows smoothly, we can experience dissatisfaction and disappointment when our daily puzzle pieces aren’t immediately arranged and solved, and a certain emptiness of the soul that is hard to extinguish by acquiring things, or by brief positive experiences.
A universe away from inner peace
A 2018 Money Management survey run in the US by Charles Schwab asked those surveyed to formulate their own definition of prosperity. “Living stress-free/peace of mind” was the most frequent response, provided by 28% of respondents.
In 2018, reported levels of anxiety and depression in teenagers were higher than in all other age groups, according to the American Psychological Association, which regularly carries out surveys to measure the level of stress in the nation. Anxiety is on the rise, according to a poll conducted by the American Psychiatry Association in the same year. While 39% of the respondents said they were more anxious than they were the previous year, an equal percentage reported that their anxiety stalled.
Anxiety is the most common mental disorder among the inhabitants of the European Union, according to a 2011 study.
Beyond the causes that specialists attribute to this epidemic of anxiety, our inability to build an unshakable inner peace is quite obvious, even if “we live in the best of times, in the right place, in the best performing economy that ever existed,” as Jim Stovall noted in 2008.
Speaking about self-confidence as a key factor in achieving success, Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at Harvard University, claims that behaving like you believe in yourself is an effective means of boosting self-esteem. Therefore, if you “fake it till you make it“, taking confidence in your strengths, this positive behaviour eventually becomes natural.
As you may have already noticed, peace of mind is one of the few things we cannot achieve through exercise. Perhaps we can learn to manage our emotions so well that no sign of our inner struggle shows. But settling in to a peace that will accompany us through all our ups and downs, while ensuring that we are safe even if everything else collapses around us, is infinitely more difficult. It is impossible, really.
Many claim to have mastered this art, and make a living out of writing books on the 3, or 7, or 12 steps to achieving peace of mind, that are more or less difficult to reach. But anyone who has lived long enough to face the devastating force of life’s losses, hardships, and tragedies knows that, while there are strategies we can use to shape our external reactions, when it comes to inner peace, they turn out to be insufficient.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” is a promise that Jesus made just before His death, preparing His disciples for their separation from Him. He was also preparing them for the waves of persecution that would crash against them in a very short time. The promise is also addressed to us. It is a peace that is always anchored in the present time (not just in a future Kingdom, where problems will only be a memory), and it is of an unearthly magnitude. It is a peace that does not resemble that of “the world”, survives in destabilising circumstances, and “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
Where have we lost our peace?
There are a multitude of techniques, strategies, and tricks that specialists—or amateurs disguised as experts—recommend in order for us to make peace with ourselves. We are told it will be a difficult path, with stops along the way for self-forgiveness, acceptance of who we are, forgiveness of the past, or digging through the labyrinths of the subconscious, to identify repressed desires.
According to the Bible, however, making peace with ourselves is not the first action we should take, and it is not even something we can accomplish through our own efforts alone. What the Word urges us to do is make peace with God so that we can enjoy God’s peace.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”, writes the apostle Paul.
“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked” —a sharp message from God sent through the prophet Isaiah. The biblical text inevitably raises questions about the identity of the wicked, and about the level of goodness we must first achieve in order to deserve this supernatural gift of peace of mind.
From the first pages of Genesis, the Bible tells us that sin shattered the harmony and peace of the newly created world, and also destroyed the peace that reigned in the heart of man. As soon as they became aware of their sin, Adam and Eve “hid from the Lord God“, and later acknowledged that they were, for the first time, afraid of the Father who had given them life.
Beyond doctrines and theology, Christianity is a relationship, as Josh McDowell and Thomas Williams put it in their book The Relational Word. This relationship has been broken by man’s disobedience.
As Eve listened to the serpent’s deceptive words, doubt began to spring up in her mind. Perhaps God was not entirely trustworthy. Perhaps He did not really want the best for them. The disobedience of our first parents was a “declaration of independence”, the rejection of “God’s supremacy in favor of the supremacy of their egos”, McDowell and Williams note.
This choice would bring chaos, destroying humanity’s harmony with God, and the harmony between humanity and nature. It would shatter the perfection of God’s image in their descendants. A few generations later, according to the Biblical account, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”
Created for a close relationship with his Maker, man has become estranged from Him. Moreover, the rebellion of our parents “turned us into traitors, because we chose to side with God’s enemy.” Maybe today we don’t fully understand the importance of holiness, as we tend to focus on grace, McDowell and Williams point out. But God is perfect, without any trace of evil, and had we seen pieces of the perfect world created by God, we would have a better understanding of how lethal the action of sin is. God could not allow sin to flow freely through all of His creation, for the very same reason we would not allow a deadly virus to spread—were it in our power to stop it.
Peace with God
“For the wages of sin is death,” Scripture says. Sin has become impossible to eradicate, apart from the complete disappearance of mankind from the universe. This infection of sin has “contaminated our whole being, in the same way an inoperable cancer spreads throughout the body.”
Because the Father’s heart could not bear to lose us, Adam was presented with a plan for salvation, forged before the foundation of the world. The Son would take the form of a human, and die for the human race.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions… the punishment that brought us peace was on Him and by his wounds we are healed.” This is the powerful message of hope that the prophet Isaiah has given us.
Humanity’s relationship with God could thus be restored, and they could be forgiven and justified. He ransomed us with His perfect life; “therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
An exchange, as amazing as it is unjust, that was beneficial even for the thief on the cross. In his last moments of life, he spoke to his unrighteous companion, who had been mocking the dying Saviour along with the whole city, and proclaimed that their death was just: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:41). At the same time, he looked at the agony and gentleness of the crucified Christ, understanding by faith that His death had a different purpose. “But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). This thief acknowledged, with his last vestiges of strength, the extraordinary exchange that was taking place for anyone willing to accept it. Man can receive the perfect life of the Son of God, and the peace and salvation that comes with it, because He has chosen the death that was destined for us.
The peace of God
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
If peace with God is like a rock, the peace of God can be compared to the ocean, writes pastor Dan Denzell, thus explaining the difference and complementarity of the two concepts.
Through Jesus’ death, we have peace with God, which means that the relationship has been restored on a solid foundation. In the same way that the relationship between a parent and a child is not destroyed just because the child makes mistakes every now and then, so the relationship between God and the man who returns to Him is permanent and strong.
The peace of God that is promised to us can fluctuate at times, just as the waves of the ocean rise and fall, are sometimes calm, and sometimes more agitated.
The simplest explanation for this fluctuation is that we often shift our focus to external issues, rather than focusing on the One who controls everything. And so, our confidence weakens and peace falls apart, Denzell explains. There is a direct relationship between trust and peace, according to Scripture: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13).
Peace is in fact “an unwavering trust in God’s careful attention and a quiet obedience”, notes Christian author Elisabeth Elliot.
Ellen White also speaks of the close connection between faith, obedience, and peace in the book The Desire of Ages: “Those who believe Christ’s word and surrender their souls to His care and their lives to be led by Him, will find peace and tranquility. In perfect obedience there is perfect peace”.
Peace is not something optional, but rather the “destiny” of the Christian, Denzell claims, noting that not having peace means, in fact, being separated from Christ, because this gift is never offered separately from its Giver.
“For he himself is our peace”, says the apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:14). This means that any search for peace in our soul is only successful when the thing that we are looking for is, in fact, more of His presence.
The silence in the eye of the storm
In a world soaked in suffering, God has never promised His believers that they would be spared from trouble. Rather, His peace-bearing presence would always accompany them. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), is the word of the One who promises to each of His sons: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Many of those struck by the storm, but not broken by it, speak of an unearthly peace, impossible to put into words, that sustained them in moments of trauma.
Devin Suarez, the protagonist of a beautiful and sad love story, confessed that God’s peace sustained him at every stage, from the moment his fiancée was diagnosed with cancer, until her death separated them.
“I have never doubted God’s goodness. I depended on Him constantly and I know that I wouldn’t have made it without Him, but I received the peace and strength without which I could not have gone further”, says Devin.
Devin told me that studying the Scriptures and praying helped him get through the harshest experience of his life. His prayers for power and peace were always heard, giving him the courage and strength that each day demanded.
For Nora and Beniamin Fărăgău, the year and a half in which their son Filip struggled with a cruel illness was a time of questioning. But it was also a time of faith. Of course, it was a time of drilling pain, but also one in which they felt the peace and love of God more than ever before.
Beniamin recalls a time of hardship during which even some of their friends accused them of not praying as much as “needed” for their son’s healing. He listened to them silently and during this time his mind returned again and again to the prayer of Jesus: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” He knew then and still knows that a Christian is not exempt from any of the sufferings that plague our fallen planet. However, he is convinced that when Filip’s life slipped away he was at peace with God, which means that his story has, as Nora points out, a happy ending. Of course, it was difficult not to wonder, while Filip was crushed by excruciating pain, why his life should end like this at only 35 years old.
Beniamin recalls one of the late evenings when he had left the hospital. It was cold, sleet fell from the sky, the wind was blowing, and his soul was pierced with suffering.
“I was talking to God in that uproar and I said, ‘Lord, why?’ And as if God had answered me: ‘I understand you. I too have lost my Son, but I reunited with Him, you will also be reunited with your son.’”
This was a significant moment, Beniamin says, in which he understood in a new and profound way how much it had cost God to offer eternity to us. Although sometimes their voices break, drowned in longing and tears, the way Nora and Beniamin relive the experience of their son’s suffering shows that they have a sense of peace, and a living hope.
They are still weeping for Filip, but they continue to feel the peace they received when the news of the disease fell “like lightning” and they kneeled to bring their sorrow to Filip’s eternal Father. This peace descended in their hearts when Filip died, on his hospital bed, and supported them in the midst of the funeral preparations. It is the kind of peace they ask for and receive, day after day.
It’s a peace you can’t even imagine with your mind, says Nora, insisting that they’re not heroes. They have simply chosen to believe that this is only the first part of a story that will continue, because God always keeps His promises.
In a world marked by suffering, the story of Devin and that of the Fărăgăus are testimonies to the fact that we are never abandoned. Yes, we live on a planet moaning in pain. But we can bring our tangled problems, our sharp pains, the burdens that break our peace before God. Our father knows us by name, He keeps track even of our tears, and mercifully guides our pilgrim lives.
He loves us with an everlasting love and offers us His peace here and now, as an advance and a guarantee of a future in which we will enjoy things that no eye has seen and that the human imagination cannot fathom, a future in which we will recover all that we have lost, starting with our encounters with Him, not from the distance of a prayer, but face to face. The dawn of resurrection is already starting to shine upon us: the most beautiful of meetings and reunions that will ever take place in all of Earth’s history.
Carmen Lăiu is a writer for ST Network and Semnele timpului.