Peace that Passes Understanding
Why Peace & Love are Co-Joined Twins
Understanding just how continually dependent we are upon God’s mercy is not only critical to salvation (and hence peace with God), it leads to further types of peace. For example, if any of us are doomed to lack peace and remain in continual torment, it is those trapped in the endless pain of being unable to forgive someone who hurt them. Those who cannot forgive, cannot heal. Instead, they keep torturing themselves over and over. It’s as pitifully absurd as having someone’s photo on a wall in our home, and finding ourselves compelled to slam our fist into it in mindless fury every time we walk past it; each time shattering our broken hand even more, while the object of our hate is untouched.
If the log in our eye makes our enemies’ offenses seem hideous, and our own seem minor, isn’t it inevitable that we will boil over with self-righteous fury at people who have hurt us? It would incite us to deliberately fuel the fire over and over and over; endlessly replaying in our minds how wronged we have been, and blocking awareness of how wrong we have been. In fact, losing consciousness of our own blunders could make this agony as self-perpetuating as an insidious addiction. Obsessing over someone else’s guilt can give us false peace by causing us to feel less guilty. It powers the addiction. It’s a delusion, however. There is no way that focusing on anyone else’s guilt can actually remove our own guilt. Deceptive feelings can come from various sources, but God alone can genuinely remove guilt. Even this fake peace, however, comes at the cost of keeping us continually angry (an incessant agitation that is the polar opposite of peace). It provokes us to keep inflaming our pain; preventing healing by enslaving us to continually revisiting unpleasantness that is actually over, and keeping the memory as painfully fresh as the moment it happened.
In short, seeing our failings as excusable and our enemy’s failings as unforgivable mutates into an uncontrollable madness that turns a distasteful event that has already gone, into something that keeps revisiting us, day after day, month after month, year after year. We might as well keep prodding an open wound with a poker, and wonder why it keeps hurting and never heals. Dwelling on someone else’s offense seems to offer the unique comfort of pandering to our ego, but instead of comfort, it brings never-ending torment.
The biggest thing perpetuating this agony is the delusion that we are better than the person we despise; keeping us ignorant of the enormity of our own offenses against God. This is the value of matters raised in the The Forgotten Secret of Inner Peace series. The more we manage to get our head around the enormity of our own offenses that God is eager to forgive, and stop seeing ourselves as better than others, the easier it becomes to experience the unique relief and peace that flows from forgiving those who have hurt us (Comment).
My wife once asked God how he copes with all the hurt that he suffers from humanity. He replied, “Love heals.”
How can we gain the rarely understood healing balm that comes from loving our enemies? By realizing how much love it took for God to love us. He loves us with every fiber of his infinite being, and yet, despite our frantic attempts to convince ourselves otherwise, there is nothing lovable in us. He loves, not because of our worthiness, but exclusively because he is love. The more we understand this about God, and grasp how much we have each hurt him and acted like his enemy, the wider the floodgates open for us to love as God loves. “We love because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19, many translations). He is both our source of love and our inspiration to love.
Let’s look deeper into how love and peace interact, by opening the book of Jonah.
To say Jonah enjoyed success like almost no one else in human history is true, except that although he had stupendous success, he by no means enjoyed it. (Success and peace co-exist far less often than we imagine.) Success that sent all of heaven wild with celebration, made Jonah so miserable and so lacking in peace that he wished he were dead. Let’s unwrap this mystery.
As we all know, the saga started not with Jonah’s peace and joy, but with his turmoil and misery. Jonah was honored with a divine call to deliver God’s message to Israel’s despised and feared enemy: the Ninevites. This so angered Jonah that he fled in the opposite direction. It turned out that he skedaddled, not because he feared preaching, but because he feared his enemies might respond to the dire warning God had asked him to deliver, and so be saved from destruction. To put yourself in Jonah’s boat, sailing in the wrong direction, imagine the average Christian’s reaction if asked to do all he could to save Muslim terrorists from divine judgment.
Jonah suffered needless turmoil because of his rebellion, but was finally forced to obey. The Ninevites responded by repenting, and our loving Lord eagerly spared all the men, women and children, along with all their land, buildings, livestock and possessions. Jonah’s reaction was not exactly peaceful:
Jonah 4:1-3 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. He prayed to the Lord, and said, “. . . . wasn’t this what I said when I was still in my own country? Therefore I hurried to flee to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and you relent of doing harm. Therefore now, Lord, take, I beg you, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Emphasis mine.)
He later told God, “I am right to be angry, even to death” (Jonah 4:9).
Jonah had every reason to feel on Cloud Nine, celebrating rapturously with angelic throngs. Instead, he was about as low as he could get – both in spirits and morally.
We previously mentioned Jesus saying that on Judgment Day many will be confident that they have been powerfully used of God and that they will be exuberantly welcomed into heaven, only to see the Judge of the living and the dead compelled to eternally banish them, because their heart had not been right with God (Matthew 7:22-23). This chilling insight into the Judge’s perspective dovetails with Paul’s inspired masterpiece on love. He declared with divine authority that spiritual giftings, miracle-working faith, mind-boggling spiritual understanding and knowledge, are garbage in God’s eyes if they do not flow from genuine love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Staggeringly, he insisted that this applies even to acts that seem indisputable proof of God-sized sacrificial love – immense generosity and even martyrdom.
Jonah is further proof of this. Despite being astonishingly used of God, his heart was so appallingly far from God’s heart that apparently the Lord’s only hope of shocking him into grasping even the most basic thing about the selfless love that means everything to God, was to resort to an appeal to Jonah’s selfishness. How pitiful is that! How much it must have broken God’s heart! I hate to wonder whether the Lord might have been compelled to force Jonah to Nineveh because there had been no one among all who claimed to be God’s people whose heart was any closer to God’s than this self-obsessed, closed-minded patriot. It’s possible, however.
On a hot day, the Lord provided shade for Jonah by causing a plant to grow miraculously fast. Then the plant died. Self-obsessed Jonah was more concerned over the death of a plant he had not even planted, than the death of thousands of people – simply because it affected his comfort on a hot day.
What an indictment! Like those Jesus spoke of suffering the worst conceivable shock on Judgment Day (Matthew 7:22-23), Jonah had experienced miracles, and his mouth had delivered God’s holy message. His hardened heart, however, was about as far from God’s heart as it is possible to get. Could we, too, have a heart that is appallingly far from God’s, and yet have not the vaguest clue of the extent of our godlessness; having been lulled into deadly complacency by the fact that God has been working in and through us?
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . . (Galatians 5:22). Jonah didn’t have peace. He didn’t have joy. Nor did he have the rest of the fruit of the Spirit. Why? Because he didn’t have the first: love. He didn’t love God. Neither did he love his enemies.
Had Jonah loved God, he would have delighted in serving his Lord, and he would have delighted in God’s joy of seeing thousands of the people God loved, saved from annihilation.
“Enter into the joy of your lord,” said Jesus in one of his parables (Matthew 25:21). Jonah could not do this. He was so self-centered and filled with disgust at those who were not the chosen, that God’s joy meant nothing to him. This messenger of God would rather die than see God happy. (Proof that you love someone is that nothing gives you greater joy than seeing that person happy.) And he could not be nearly as happy as God, because God wanted the exact opposite of what Jonah wanted. The Ninevites were both God’s enemies and Jonah’s enemies, but God loves his enemies; Jonah did not.
Jonah was not at peace with God. He was at loggerheads with God. And because of that, he had no peace, even in other areas of life. Instead, he was angry, even to the point of being suicidal, both before being forced to preach to his enemies (cf. Jonah 1:12), and afterward.
The book ends without telling us whether Jonah ever understood, and found on-going peace by the radical change of heart he so desperately needed. I’d like to think his heart eventually softened, and that he finally understood. I worry that he might not have, however. It’s an enormous trek to drag one’s heart from such self-centeredness to the love that God considers basic. Anyone can do it, but they must want it – enough, at least, to be willing to let God wrench them away from selfishness. 1 Corinthians 14:1 goes even further, saying we need to “follow after love” or, as many translations put it, to pursue it. Sacrificial love leads to peace not tasted by the self-obsessed.
I am not for a moment suggesting that enjoying the peace flowing from sacrificial love should be our motivation. Our motivation should be to become more like the God we adore. Enjoying the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) – which includes peace – is simply a byproduct of yielding to God, delighting in him, and imitating him as eagerly as a child imitates his dad who is his hero.
It would be a denial of reality to end this observation of Jonah here; giving the impression that on earth a life devoted to God is a life of unfettered peace. For a realistic look at the complexities of life this side of heaven, we should look at another prophet.
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. His mission was far more distressing than Jonah’s because it failed to bring many to repentance. Right from the beginning, the Lord told him, “They will fight against you,” (Jeremiah 1:19). So some of his sorrow was sharing in God’s sorrow.
Jeremiah 9:1 Oh that my head were waters,
and my eyes a spring of tears,
that I might weep day and night
for the slain of the daughter of my people!
Jeremiah 13:17 But if you will not hear it,
my soul will weep in secret for your pride.
My eye will weep bitterly,
and run down with tears,
because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive.
Jeremiah 13:17 But if you will not hear it, my soul will weep in secret for your pride. My eye will weep bitterly, and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive.
Though distressing, this would have brought with it the unique joy and comfort of deep fellowship with God. In Paul’s words, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so, our comfort also abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5).
People seldom share their deepest pain with superficial acquaintances, and I want the deepest possible relationship with God – don’t you? When we truly love someone, we yearn to share not only their joys but any sorrows they have. As distressing as it is, we want to be with them in their pain. In fact, we would feel offended if they kept their suffering secret from us.
But analyze this outburst:
Jeremiah 20:14-18 Cursed be the day I was born! . . . Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you – a son!” May that man be like the towns the LORD overthrew without pity. . . . For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever. Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame? (NIV)
Sharing in God’s suffering by seeing people reject God and his divine help would have hurt Jeremiah – it hurt God even more – but the prophet wishing he had never been born seems to be because he did not love as deeply as God loved. The people who were making life unbearable for him were barreling for destruction. Unlike God, it seems he did not think doing everything possible to save them was worth the cost.
I cannot be hard on the guy. I am not worthy to be this man’s doormat. My worst times have been a stroll along the beach compared to his grueling years. I am forever grateful for the Bible being so honest, however. We all go on downers at times, and when we do, it is comforting to know we are not alone. Nevertheless, I think it enlightening to measure his meltdown – which might have been fairly brief anyhow – alongside people who are so far beyond me that I can only gasp.
Contrast Jeremiah’s reaction with the disciples who, immediately after being flogged, left “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name,” (Acts 5:41). Then there is Paul’s longing, “. . . . that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death,” (Philippians 3:10, emphasis mine).
To willingly be physically tortured for someone who rejects God is impressive, but Paul takes love to a mindboggling level by being willing to suffer spiritually and eternally for them. In reference to Christ-denying Jews, he wrote:
Romans 9:2-3 I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers’ sake . . .
That is truly living. Christlikeness is not about gooey feelings; it’s about embracing pain for the glory of God. Yes, you could be in so much pain or distress that you wish you were dead, but life is not about feeling good; it’s about being good. A life worth living is about sweating blood while crying, “Nevertheless, not my will . . .” A life that costs nothing is worth nothing.
Yes, Christ died in our place, sparing us so much and achieving what we never could, and in this we should rejoice forever. The enormity of that, however, does not negate the strong theme in Scripture that among the priceless things Christ’s suffering achieved was to provide each of us with an example of how we should embrace suffering:
1 Peter 2:20-21 . . . if, when you do well, you patiently endure suffering, this is commendable with God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps
Love, joy and peace are inseparable.
Love empowers us to see as God sees. Then everything looks different. You will see beauty, hope and treasure where you never saw it before. But you will also see need so immense that it towers over the cost of helping; dwarfing what had once seemed an exorbitant price.
Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2019, 2020 Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered, this entire paragraph is included, readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.
Bible Versions Used
King James Version
King James Version