This week I had the opportunity to visit the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment prior to their deployment to Afghanistan later this month. It was great to find everyone in good heart, and, with all their training completed, they are eager to make the transition to their challenging assignment.
As I wished them well, I assured them of our prayers and support as they carry out their crucial mission. Their task is to establish stability and good order in Helmand province, primarily for the benefit of the Afghan people who live there, and ultimately for the benefit of all of us in the western world.
We wish our world were a better place. The writers of the Old Testament dreamt of a new age in which all human crookedness would be straightened out and all rough places made plain. The deserts would blossom and flower, the mountains would run with wine, weeping would cease and people could go to sleep without weapons on their laps. People would work in peace and to fruitful effect. Lambs could lie down with lions. All humans would be knit together, and everyone would look to God and delight in Him.
The word which the biblical writers used to describe this state of affairs was “shalom”, which we normally translate as “peace”. But shalom means much more than the absence of war and conflict. It means health, wholeness, and a universal flourishing. It is a rich state of affairs in which all needs are met and all gifts are positively employed. Shalom is simply the way things ought to be.
We live in a world which is clearly deficient in shalom. It is a sinful, broken world. God hates sin, not just because it violates his law, but because it violates shalom. It breaks the peace and it interferes with the way things are meant to be.
We are innately shalom-destroyers. Robbery, assault, malicious gossip, blasphemy, idolatry, unfaithfulness and perjury break the peace. Sin is a parasite, a vandal and a spoiler. But shalom is built by truth-telling, thanksgiving, encouragement, faithfulness, love, and the worship of God.
God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back. God is so committed to establishing shalom in our broken world that he gave his Only Son, Jesus, to live, die and rise again so that this world might be renewed and redeemed. Jesus Christ was the great shalom-maker, and when his kingdom is fully established, it will mean that everything will be restored to the way God originally intended it to be.
Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God. It is by the irresistible grace and power of Jesus Christ that we can be inwardly transformed so that we become shalom-builders, not shalom-destroyers.
On this anniversary of 9/11 when we remember how the shalom of the western world was so massively disturbed, we affirm our need for shalom and for the power of Christ to transform and change our world. That transformation begins in my heart.
Please remember to pray for these brave men of the Royal Irish Regiment as they take on their important duties, and pray for their families at home as they await their safe return.