Wednesday, February 28, 2018

TTT #6 The Main Characteristic of the Kingdom of God is Shalom

If God’s desire is the realization of the kingdom of God, as I contended in the fifth chapter of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT), there are ample grounds for claiming that the main characteristic of that kingdom is shalom.
What is Shalom?
The Hebrew word shalom, as seen below (and read from right to left), is popularly used as a greeting meaning hello or goodbye—as is the similar term salaam in Arabic. This is an excellent greeting when it includes the desire for all that is encompassed in the original concept of shalom.  
Shalom is generally translated peace, and it certainly means that—but it also includes the idea of harmony, justice, and well-being for all.
The harmony of shalom is all-embracing: it means the harmony of human beings with God (what has popularly been called peace with God), harmony of all individuals and all groups (communities, ethnic groups, and nations) with each other (what is usually referred to as world peace), and harmony among all parts of creation (which we might call ecological peace).
Two of the greatest twentieth-century advocates of shalom were Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is noteworthy that they were both assassinated; Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was also executed. Peacemakers are not always popular.
Seekers of shalom often are not appreciated by those who profit from an inequitable status quo; there are always some who enjoy the fruits of injustice. But shalom always requires justice and is possible only where justice is a present reality.
Shalom and Justice
Shalom means societal harmony, and such harmony is possible only where there is social justice, which is quite different from the common idea of punitive justice.
Social justice envisions a society where all the hungry are fed, all the sick are cared for, and everyone is treated with respect. Further, social justice requires that exploitation and all forms of prejudice and discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, or sexual orientation be eradicated.
Social justice recognizes the inherent equality and worth of all persons. If everyone really has equal value, then there is insufficient justice if some people have too much food to eat while others are starving.
There is also inadequate justice if some people have luxurious houses or multiple dwellings while many people are homeless and living on the streets, sleeping under cardboard boxes.
The lack of justice often leads to violence and at times even to war. For that reason, one of the most important statements of a Pope in the twentieth century was made by Pope Paul VI on New Year’s Day in 1972: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
Probably everyone who hears those words wants peace. But here’s the rub: do we want peace bad enough to work actively for justice?
Waging Peace / Working for Shalom
In the previous chapter, I emphasized that people are called on to work for and also to wait for the coming of the kingdom of God. The same can be said about shalom, the chief characteristic of that kingdom.
Just as the kingdom of God is never going to be completely realized on this earth, at least not by human efforts, neither are we humans ever going to be able to create a world completely characterized by shalom. But that shouldn’t keep us from working earnestly to that end.
In Chapter Six of TTT (see here), I give examples of people/groups who are seeking to wage peace and who are working for shalom—and some examples of how some real progress has been made. 


  1. Reinhold Niebuhr, in Moral Man and Immoral Society: "In the task of that redemption the most effective agents will be men who have substituted some new illusions for the abandoned ones. The most important of these illusions is that the collective life of mankind can achieve perfect justice. It is a very valuable illusion for the moment; for justice cannot be approximated if the hope of its perfect realization does not generate a sublime madness in the soul. Nothing but such madness will do battle with malignant power and 'spiritual wickedness in high places.' The illusion is dangerous because it encourages terrible fanaticisms. It must therefore be brought under the control of reason. One can only hope that reason will not destroy it before its work is done" (p. 277).

  2. Thanks, Anton, for reading this morning​'s​ blog article and for responding with the quotation from Niebuhr.

    Three years after he published "Moral Man and Immoral Society," in 1935,​ ​Niebuhr wrote "Interpretation of Christian Ethics" (as I'm sure you know).

    The second chapter of the latter book is summarized as follows:

    "Chapter II: The Ethic of Jesus

    "The ethic of Jesus commands an all-embracing love because God’s love is like that. It sets itself against all self-regarding impulses, including physical survival, love of possessions, pride, prudential morality, and even family loyalty. Such absolutism and perfectionism leads to the eschatology of an "impossible possibility" whereby God’s kingdom is always coming but never here."

    (In other places later in the same book he also forwards the paradoxical concept of "impossible possibility.")

    This is in agreement with what I wrote in TTT #5 about the thinking of Walter Rauschenbusch and Georgia Harkness concerning the Kingdom of God, and by extension about "shalom."

  3. "...Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection." MLK

    I have met the animus of the "Justice" groups many times. It is no better than the other justice sought by people of ill-will. Give me a person of goodwill any day of the week - even if we have differences.

    Although I see it differently, I do like your addition of Shalom/Salaam to the truth list.

    1. King's words in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" are powerful and need to be taken very seriously, I think. But he was writing to counter the position of people "of goodwill" who wanted to protect the status quo, who wanted "the colored" to wait for things to get better, who didn't want to rock the boat of a society that was oppressive to African-Americans.

      Those who expressed "outright rejection" were each to oppose, but it was harder to oppose the "people of goodwill." They were largely the kind, respectable citizens of society who didn't particularly have any overt
      "animus" for the people of color. But neither did they want the social justice that King sought--which I described in the following words:

      "Social justice envisions a society where all the hungry are fed, all the sick are cared for, and everyone is treated with respect. Further, social justice requires that exploitation and all forms of prejudice and discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, or sexual orientation be eradicated."

      Social justice advocates sometimes seem belligerent to those who a part of an exploitive, oppressive system and who support discrimination of other people "based on race, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, or sexual orientation."

      And, yes, in their zeal sometimes social justice advocates make mistakes and they themselves become abusive and discriminatory. But please don't use MLK and his wise words as a means to trash people working for social justice.

  4. I sometimes end my messages with Shalom and would like comments from readers of this Blog if you think Appropriate?
    John Carr

    1. John Tim, thanks for raising the question about "shalom" as a way to end messages. I had often done that in the past, but one Thinking Friend wrote that he didn't think that was a good idea--for reasons I can remember now.

      But it seems to me that it is a good salutation, and you may have noticed that I used that at the close of the email message to my Thinking Friends this morning.

      I, too, would be interested to know what other readers of this blog think.

    2. My Jewish friends know the term, and it is quite appropriate. About half of my Christian friends know Shalom, so I use it quite sparingly. Most of the others around the world do no know the term. For my Muslim and Arab friends, I use Salaam or Selam, a variant. Many Arabs and Hajis use Al Salaam to wish the blessings of Allah. Sadly, much of society is not multi-lingual or multi-cultural, so one must dumb down the vocabulary of general usage - even international words like "Ciao".

  5. Thinking Friend Carolyn Houts, who was a Baptist missionary to Ghana for more than 30 years (and who is also my cousin and lives now in my hometown in northwest Mo.) made these comments in an email (and posted here with her permission):

    "One of the missionaries in Ghana who taught at the seminary preached a message at convention explaining the Hebrew concept of shalom similar to points you mentioned in your blog on shalom.

    "Baptists began using it as a greeting to one another which continues
    to today, I think. People would give a response in Twi like they did to
    other greetings and then say shalom back to the first person.

    "So your article reminded me of Ghana."