In Jesus’ last dialogue with his disciples, he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (John 14:27)
Yet, ongoing peace is difficult for us to attain on both an individual and collective basis. On a collective basis, if you add the Cold War to the shooting wars beginning with World War II, there have been less than ten years in which the U. S. has been at peace over the last seventy-five years.
On an individual basis, the kind of peace that St. Paul describes as passing all understanding is similarly difficult to attain.
Thomas A Kempis in his book, Imitation of Christ, says, “Our peace consists in humble bearing of suffering and contradictions, not in being free of them, for we cannot live in this world without adversity. He who can best suffer will enjoy the most peace, for such a person is master of himself, a lord of the world, has Christ for his friend, and heaven is his reward.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran minister was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943 and executed just days before the war’s end in April, 1945. His Gestapo prison cell was eight by five feet and underground. Eric Mataxas, in his biography of Bonhoeffer, says that he brought peace and calm to his fellow prisoners. “His strength was borrowed from God and lent to others,” said Mataxas.
On the day of his execution, the prison doctor observed, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer, and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
Most of us are not likely to experience the challenges that Dietrich Bonhoeffer did, but as Thomas A Kempis says, we cannot live in this world without adversity – sickness, unemployment, estrangement from loved ones, a difficult boss, caring for a disabled relative – the list is endless. Are we able to handle these challenges with the kind of peace that Jesus is talking about?
In the prime of my career as an attorney for a large international oil company I declined a promotion to avoid a relocation that my wife and I believed would have adversely affected our family which included three teenage daughters at the time. For a couple of years I was not very peaceful, as I was asked to take an assignment I held once before and saw people who used to work for me be promoted over me. Through prayer and God’s grace, I eventually regained my peace.
Then our company had an incident at one of its facilities for which I was responsible for overseeing legal services. We had several lawsuits, regulatory actions, a legislative effort to outlaw our operations and even a criminal action against our management. We overcame all of these actions and it turned out to be the most challenging and rewarding legal work of my career.
In Jesus’ closing moments with the disciples before his arrest, he is explaining all that will happen to him, and what they can expect, and he says, “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)