Friday, May 9, 2008

The Way Things Were Meant to Be (Shalom)

A couple of days ago, I tried to clean out my car. The reason I use the word "tried" is because I was unsuccessful in the attempt. It was too big a job for me. There was way too much junk for me to get it all with one try. I spend about six hours a week on the road and, as a result, my car has become unbelievably messy and gross.

It wasn't always like this, though. I bought the car three years ago and, at the time of purchase, it was perfect. Instead of smelling like some odd combination of Whataburger and Taco Bell, it had that euphoric scent of New Car. The exterior was once a flawless masterpiece; it now features a series of dents and dings from various hailstorms and tightly-packed parking garages. The windshield, which was was once a clean sheet of see-through glass, is cracked in several places. It is no longer the car that it was meant to be.

Often, we look at the world in terms of brokenness. We have no vision for what it was originally meant to be. Rather, we only see what it currently is: a worn-out, battered, exhausted version of what it was meant to be. We forget that the first two chapters in Genesis are not about the Fall and the failures of humanity. Rather, they are a beautiful picture of a creation which are described by God as "good." These first two chapters show us the way things were meant to be. We see a beautiful picture of people fully connected with God, with others, with the environment, and with ourselves. This state of existence is referred to by Jewish thinkers and rabbis as shalom.

In his brilliant book Engaging God's World, Cornelius Plantinga describes shalom like this:

"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 just peace of mind or 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, all under the arch of God’s love. Shalom, in other words, is the way things are supposed to be." (15)

As he points out, shalom is not fully described as "peace." It is a full, holistic return to the way things were meant to be. Shalom does not simply clean out the car; it makes the car new again. As we look through the stories of Scripture, we see that this is what Jesus came to do: to restore shalom and bring restoration to all that has become broken and bruised. This is God's plan for all of creation. In hundreds of different ways, God promises to rebuild what's been broken and to restore what has been soiled.

Our role as the church is to participate in this restoration. We are to bring the presence of Jesus into every corner of this world and to reveal shalom in every possible way. This is the concept of living within the Fifth Act of the grand narrative (see previous post entitled "Narrative Theology"). We participate by bringing justice to people who have none; by offering relief to those who struggle; to refuse to participate in exploitation and oppression; by allowing ourselves to know and be known with others in genuine community; by seeking to claim all of the broken pieces of ourselves and pursuing inner wholeness. We participate in this movement of restoration by seeking the shalom of what was originally meant to be.

I know this hasn't been particularly long or story-laden, but it's just something I've been thinking and reading about a lot lately. I'll end this post with a quote from Shane Claiborne's book The Irresistible Revolution:

"We do indeed have a God of resurrection, a God who can create beauty from the messes we make of our world." (67)