In the Christian subculture, we often hear the phrase, “I just don’t have a ‘peace’ about it.” This mindset can be harmful to the way we approach the world and our own human experience. Where did this phrase come from? How has it so successfully infiltrated our vernacular? Why do we adopt this idea despite its inconsistency? This pedestal of “peace” is a highly subjective and often unattainable “feeling,” which I believe the biblical narrative calls into question, particularly in the following two stories.
Jonah. We know the story. After God directly instructs him to go to Nineveh in Jonah 1:2, Jonah runs. He boards a boat, goes below deck and falls into a “sound sleep,” despite the fact that the storm outside is so great that the boat was “about to break up.” This is no small feat. How many times do we hear people, in the midst of decision-making, talking about their inability to sleep? Jonah, in direct disobedience, was able to sleep, even though his bed was on the verge of sinking to the bottom of the sea. Sounds to me like Jonah had a “peace” about “fleeing the presence of the Lord.”
Now look to our second example: another storm with a very scared crew. After a long day of teaching by the lake, Jesus boards a boat with his disciples (some of whom were seasoned fishermen) in order to cross to the other side. A familiar scene: Our central character, Jesus, goes below deck to catch a nap, and a fierce storm arises. The crew quite literally freaks out.
Jesus awakens to the frightened disciples and immediately rebukes the wind and sea, but this is not the only rebuke Jesus unleashes. He turns to his men and asks, “How is it that you have no faith?” These men, His men, had listened to Him teach, seen Him heal and heard Him command demons. These were the men who should have had peace in the middle of the storm. They were in the very presence of God the Son, and in amazement, Jesus turns as they flounder in fear, and He questions their faith.
These two stories highlight the dangerous and volatile subjectivity that characteristically surrounds our experience of “peace.” Jonah audaciously fled the presence of God, acted in disobedience and didn’t miss a wink of sleep. The disciples’ knees were knocking despite the presence of the One who helped create the very elements causing their terror. The one who shouldn’t have felt peace did, and the ones who should have, didn’t.
God tells us our path will be difficult at times. In His Word we are given example after example of men and women who have walked an imperfect, yet faithful, path before us. They did not always make the right choices and neither will we. We are rarely shown instances where these characters experienced this “peace” we so long for. We must understand that this walk of faith will frequently have periods of darkness and confusion, for without darkness and confusion we have no need for faith. We are promised that God’s Word “is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path,” not a floodlight and a roadmap. We are like ships traversing the dangerous waters of the coast, simply trusting the lamp of a lighthouse for direction. Faith. Trust. Surrender. These are the characteristics of relationship, not of peace.
Larry Crabb wrote on the darkness of decision in his book, The Silence of Adam:
“[God] is telling us what to do, but it’s not a code. He tells us … to love him, and then do whatever we think is best … When it finally dawns on us that God is waiting for us to move and to speak into darkness, that his instruction is to choose a direction consistent with what we know of him, then we stop asking … We have to. He simply won’t tell us specifically what to do. We begin to face the loneliness of choice, the terror of trust.”
We have been given a Counselor in the Holy Spirit, not a drill sergeant. “The Spirit more often whispers encouragement (‘You can do it. I am with you’) than directions (‘Now go tell her this’). We must develop a relationship with Christ in which we come to know him well enough to behave like he would, to sense what he would do, what he might say,” Crabb wrote.
We must come to understand that the key to our decision-making and search for peace resides in our intimacy with Jesus. Only then will we know “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Psalm 119:105). We must trust that we know and serve a God of love who is large enough to cover our mistakes. We must make decisions on what we know of God, and in the fray of confusion, step forward in faith. He is the God who loves us, and this is the walk we are committed to. On this side of heaven, we are confronted with the darkness of disbelief and indecision, but if we walk in faith, we are promised that beauty awaits us.
[Josh Benoit is a twentysomething living in D.C. and looking to understand and engage the culture around him.]
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