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.