Sometimes we make too much of the peace that comes from following Jesus. At the very least, too many promises of easy peace have been made from pulpits.
Too many troubled souls have walked down the church aisle or the old sawdust trail of the tent revivalist declaring their faith and reaching out to claim the Prince of Peace, only to discover that trouble still abounded.
Like many of you, I regularly pray for peace—peace in my own heart and mind, peace in my family, peace in my church, and peace in our world. I pray because Jesus taught us to do so. I pray because I know that making peace is beyond my limited ability. While I can live in such a manner that my living makes peace more possible, I cannot bring peace to others, and often not to my own life. I pray because I believe that apart from God peace is impossible.
Yet it seems that even with God peace remains beyond our grasp. While we proclaim the end of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, war rages on—there and many other places. Daily we hear the news of another troubled soul who has taken his/her life. Families quarrel and fall apart. Peace officers are ambushed and killed, as was the case in nearby Bardstown early Saturday morning when a young officer was gunned down on his way home from work.
Into this trouble, peace-free world, the word of the Apostle Paul enters. In Romans 8:1-11, Paul contrasts the law of the spirit with the law of sin and death. The one promises life. The other death. One leads to a peace that cannot be found in the other. But Romans 8:1-11 can’t be understood apart from what Paul wrote earlier and what Paul lived. In Romans 5, he stated that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” From Paul’s writings and his life and from our own experience, we begin to understand that “peace” is something other than the absence of conflict and trouble. “Peace with God” speaks not of a trouble-free world but of being peaceable in the midst of a troubled world.
We should pray and work for peace in our communities and wider world, but doing so first requires that we be at peace. How can we be at peace with ourselves if we are not at peace with God? How does peace with God come? On the one hand, it is a gift through Jesus Christ our Lord. On the other hand, it is the result of living in the spirit—living in relationship with Jesus.
Thus a text about law and grace becomes a key source for understanding how to be at peace—at peace with God, with ourselves, and with our times. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11, NRSV).
There is a peace that sustains us even in troubled times, but it comes at the price of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The more we live and walk that relationship the more peace will abound even in the midst of turmoil and struggle.