Brian T. Davies, Uxbridge
'Not as the world gives, give I unto you', (the Lord) John 14. 27.
'Which passeth all understanding', (Paul) Phil. 4. 7.
THESE ARE REMARKABLE STATEMENTS worth enquiring into, for they speak of a peace that cannot be obtained from the world or adequately explained by the mind. This is His peace, coming from the God whose nature is peace, Phil. 4. 9.
On this evidence it is pointless for us to search anywhere else for this peace but from the Lord. It is not something within the world's resources or within human ability and skill to attain it, and as we cannot explain it psychologically, that is on the basis of our nature, there is no prospect of our being able to reproduce it. All the conditions, environmentally and inherently in us are against it. We are accordingly wholly dependent on God through the operation of the Holy Spirit, to experience it. It is something truly spiritual. Clearly there are implications in this for all of us, for Christians and non-Christians alike. The Christian knows that peace with God is only established when we first settle our relationships with Him on His terms, Rom. 5. 1. Only then do we settle into the good of this peace. There is no other way, but the way of Him who linked His way to truth and life, for He is the source of all these things. Before considering the unique qualities of this peace, however, it is well to look at the conditions under which the two statements quoted above were made. Both were at a time when the person concerned could be said to be in a situation very far from. being conducive to peace. One is the giver, the other the receiver. One provides the thought, the other has explored it. The giver (the Lord) knows that ahead of Him lies the cross. The closest of His disciples, John, leaning on Him, can feel the disturbed heartbeat as He talks of the one about to betray Him. The recipient of the peace (Paul) is in prison. So neither can be speaking in any academic sense. The Lord knows He is about to die and has warned them of this, and Paul, as a reading of his first chapter to the Philippians shows, is certainly not filing the bars of his cell to escape. The importance there is to note that this peace is something that rises above their immediate circumstances. It helps them to continue on their course. The one knows of the existence, the reality of a peace that He can give to others, for He is its Author. The other confirms that what He, the Lord, has said, is true. He substantiates the claim made.
Now the world has two ways of looking at troubling circumstances. The one is to look for ways of getting out of them, for it knows there will be no rest or peace until it does. The other way is to bury one's head in the sand. (Compare what Paul says about our faith if Christ wasn't risen, 1 Cor. 15. 14.) The mystics have their interpretation in transcendental acts of meditation; the hedonists and weak-willed resort to other more accessible means of escapism to produce distraction or even temporary oblivion which in the end does not remove the issues but compounds them and so makes them worse. The religious can also produce their own kind of opium, KARL MARX. The attempt to stop the clock by suicide provides no answer. Unfortunately we cannot in this world avoid heartbreak, emotional and physical injury, disappointments, bereavement, perplexities and frustrations. We all need something to enable us to cope when these things afflict us. We know they are the destroyers of peace of heart and mind, and it is natural for us to look for a cure, to plead for release, for some panacea; for the loved one to be restored, for life to return to normality, for the problem to be solved. We can gain no peace until this happens.
Most of us have been through some part of this experience at some time in our lives. But can we, like Naomi, overwhelmed with bitterness of heart, say that we also trust in a God of peace, and in such a way, for another witnessing this to say: 'Your God will be my God'? We must look at the attitude of the Lord. In extreme agony for one facing separation from a loving Father, there is the plea: 'Thy will be done'. We now find a man remarkably at peace. Pilate can be impressed by that calmness. Doesn't He know he has power to crucify Him or release Him? Why does He not plead His cause? That is the picture we are asked to see. There is also Paul's acceptance of the irksome affliction he had pleaded to have removed. He calls this being given a thorn in the flesh, 2 Cor. 12. 7: a reminder that in spite of his spiritual aspirations he is a product of a fallen humanity, so keeping him close to reality, Gen. 3. 18. The great danger of any leader is to begin to assume some superiority over the rest. However, it should not be denied that in the normal way we gain no peace until whatever troubles us, physically, mentally, or emotionally is removed; the aspirin only lasts for so long. What then, we ask, is this peace which can be possessed even when troubles and perplexities persist without resolution in sight; when, for instance, the loved one cannot be brought back to life?
The hope of resurrection may comfort, but how much more comforting when Lazarus is raised! Yet it is a fact of experience of the on-going Christian that this peace, which He gives, and which is not available from any natural source, be it chemist, psychologist, scientist or whoever, has this very quality: that of infusing the heart and providing solace when in the very depth of sorrowing. As one writer has expressed it, this peace is 'our balm in sorrow, and our stay in strife'. In answer to the sceptic it is through this that the Christian faith has survived the centuries in the catalogue of crimes against its adherents. It is this peace which enables Christians to swim against the tide, and it enables them to love where they only receive hate, e.g. read POLYCARP, an early bishop of the church. It eases the pain of bereavement and dispels doubt. In other words, it has a power which sumounts the evidences of that which assail our physical senses. It does not deny their existence, as some invite us to do (e.g. Christian Scientists), but demonstrates its own reassuring presence in that innermost part of ourselves which is the most real to us. It transcends; it confirms the reality of our restored relationship with our Lord when first we accepted our need for forgiveness and for our consciences to be cleansed.
Those frightful frontiers which we dread to cross disappear as we lift our eyes upwards to the Lord for help, Psa. 121. The Christian's claim is valid and genuine. It is not necessary to wait for trouble to taste this peace, for it is sornething we can travel with whenever we seek converse with our Lord. Once experienced, we can tell the difference when spiritual health declines, as one has written:-
'Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?'
However, it would seem there is at least a qualification we can make about this peace. If, as it is claimed, it has this transcendent property, do we seek this first or do we all too readily give precedence to being relieved of whatever ails us? Does our physical well-being come before our spiritual experiences of closeness to Him such as we know we can experience in times of stress? It can be a test of our priorities. Logically, we can suppose that when we are released of ill we neither need nor indeed may get this peace, at least in the same fullness. Many a Christian would be glad to find a stronger word than confirm or affirm that their richest experiences of this peace have been in times of adversity. So it is, for instance, that we do not find Paul emphasizing the power of prayer in relationship to healing or being spared some crisis. Indeed he prays, but in praying also follows the example of his Lord, in accepting the wider picture that is to be gained by responding with patient acceptance of whatever He wills. 1 Corinthians adds its message to that with its assurance of our not being tried beyond what we can bear. Perhaps that peace comes in proportion to the problem posed, the severity of the trial. At least, the boat that weathers the storm is the boat we would trust our lives in. The Christian begs the world to test the validity of what Christ says. Scientists are filling space with listening devices probing for some sign of other life to communicate with, but the Christian has the knowledge of being in touch with and being touched by the power of the Personality who made the Universe. That there is no need to search elsewhere should go without saying. This is not a religion of the mind.
Finally, though many can add to these remarks from their own experience and with more depth of feeling and more data, we can say that this peace conveys a sense of harmony realized, an agreement with that sublime order by which God made the world and saw that it was good, before sin entered. This surely gives increased credence to those things the natural man finds so hard to believe in about Jesus; the supernatural combined in a perfect humanity unique in its beginning and throughout to its unique end, the end that was resurrection and ascension. Here is the affirmation of what He had said about sending a Comforter in His place, the unseen Companion 'who walks with me, and who talks with me' universally accessible to all His own. With what other hope can this corrupt and chaotic world look forward to as a solution to its ever increasing problems?
Here, is this peace, at the very moment of evil seeking to do its worst at the height of its intensity pressing on the human soul, amidst the barrage, comes the still small voice and the confident calmness that can only come from the Holy Spirit pervading the inner being. There is no experience equal to it. There cannot be for it is not of this world; this peace is the felt presence of God. We sense its source; it is a guarantee of heaven's concern for the soul seeking His reassuring power, that Satan does not have, and cannot have, nor will ever have, the final word, 1 Cor. 15. 55; Rev. 21. 27.