Having a Peaceful Heart
It is no surprise these days to find people dealing with extraordinary levels of anxiety. It is more unusual to come across people who don't seem to be worried.
What's not to be anxious about?
Given the national & global financial crises, political polarization, revolving wars and beating of war drums, cultural deterioration and social unrest in many places, who can be at ease? If we can't find enough to worry about in all of these events, the news media keeps us thinking that the next random shooting, terrorist attack, child abduction or environmental disaster is going to happen at our own doorstep.
With all of this turmoil raging around us in the economic, political and social scenes, how can it be possible to live without chronic dread and anxiety?
We might dream of escaping to a place of refuge --- a mountain cottage, a private island in the South Pacific, a friendlier country of residence. There are some who have the means to do this, but only a very few. And even then, I've known of people who 'escaped' for awhile only to eventually return, after realizing that their 'safe haven' wasn't perfect either. Although hard for most of the rest of us to believe, even those with enough financial resources to fully cocoon themselves in their best imaginable world are often still discontent, craving an elusive inner security that all the money and perks in life don't seem to supply.
A lasting state of peace has to come from inside. Our spirit is a generator. It can produce discontent, worry, and many other dark things or it can produce life-giving dynamics such as joy and peace. What this internal generator cranks out is determined by the quality of three key relationships in our lives; our relationship with God, with ourselves and with others.
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Our relationship with God is the most important of these three. The engineer who designs a product is the one who knows the most about it. As the Creator, God has the instruction manual for human life. The first thing I and most other guys want to do when we buy a new gadget is rip open the box, dump out the parts and start figuring out how it goes together. It is only after several frustrating efforts that we finally turn to the instructions. Hopefully by that time we haven't messed it up too badly to get it assembled and running properly.
Even if we could figure out how to put life together on our own, there's one big catch. We're talking about LIFE, not a mechanical piece of equipment. As humans we are designed to work a certain way and to be plugged into our life source, which is God. He has designed us to need Him, to live in relationship with Him and to continually receive from Him a life-giving energy that can come from nowhere else.
CLARIFYING TALK ABOUT GOD
As soon as we start talking about God, many people will throw up their hands as though this subject is too confusing. There seem to be so many ideas about God out there --- and who's to know? But there really aren't that many different ideas. Either God does or does not exist, and if He does, then He's either a supreme being that is personal (as we think of personhood -- with mind, emotion & will) or He (more exactly 'it') is an impersonal 'force'.
The idea of God as impersonal comes from Eastern religions, primarily Hinduism and its derivatives. The Eastern idea of God as an impersonal force has had increasing influence in the West (think the 'Force' of Star Wars movies). For this reason it is worth taking a closer look at the impersonal force idea, and you can do that here, if you like. But to cut to the chase, the biggest problem with understanding God as impersonal is trying to explain where personality comes from. If God is an impersonal force, then how is it that what He produces has more and superior qualities than He does? And these qualities are not just different in degree, but different in kind. This is a very serious philosophical question that should not be side-stepped. For this reason we conclude that if a supreme being exists, He is necessarily personal in nature.
God is understood as a supreme personal Creator in all of the Western expressions flowing out of the Judeo-Christian heritage. These primarily consist of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. If you want to dig deeper into the differences you'll find more about that here.
The question of God now becomes simpler and more focused. One's understanding of God will emerge from the Scriptures one understands to be authentic. Because the case for the Judeo-Christian scriptures seems far and away the most credible and reliable, we rest our confidence there. To explore the differences, you can go here. It is quite understandable that in this highly skeptical age it is not unusual to encounter people who are completely turned off to the idea of regarding any scripture as a reliable source of authority. If this is a hang-up for you please take a look at this.
What we are going to lay out below is the simple message of the one whom the ancient prophet, Isaiah, said would be called the 'Prince of Peace'. The Jewish scriptures predicted the coming of a Messiah, and the New Testament scriptures record why Jesus of Nazareth is qualified to claim that title. To understand the credibility of the biblical record, go here.
JESUS AS THE 'PRINCE OF PEACE'
There is a restless dis-ease in humans because of a rupture between them and their Creator. This disquiet manifests itself in many ways, and Jesus' main purpose was to heal this rupture, restoring peace between mankind and God.
Listen to these words of Jesus; "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27) "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) This offer of peace is a significant promise, but then it came from an exceptional source.
When we look at His early followers, we see them developing an amazing inner strength, a confident and serene assurance, even in the face of persecution and death. Life may get tough for us, but it is unlikely that most of us will ever encounter circumstances as traumatic as did these early disciples of Jesus. They didn't start out that way, so what was it that brought about this change? They gained something from Him that transformed them from fretting, timid little souls into steady, poised leaders who could stand, alone and serene, before the greatest powers of their day.
To understand this we need to go back to the source. Whatever your impression of Jesus might be, it is likely to be heavily tainted by caricature. Have you ever taken a careful and honest look directly at the actual record of His story? We want to invite you to take a look for yourself at how Jesus claims to bring this inner power that was so obviously at work within Him into the lives of those who want it.
'Neo' in The Matrix was the awaited 'One' who was to be able to overcome the artificial-intelligence slave masters of the earth's human population. There has been much discussion about the biblical allusions in the film, but there is one place where we can see a sharp divergence from the biblical Messiah. In the movie, 'Neo' had to gradually be convinced that he indeed was the 'One' and the suspense of the film leads to the climactic moment when he himself believes it, and acts on that belief. The reverse is true of Jesus. He comes on the scene being fully aware of His Messiahship and paces the unveiling of His ministry while the people slowly and in much turmoil come to recognize the phenomenal nature of His presence.
In the Bible, the coming of the Messiah is not an afterthought or a late development. We find this theme of a future deliverer from the very beginning. The promise of the Messiah begins at the account of the fall of the human race into sin. When God curses the serpent, He says, " I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15) This statement is called 'The Protoevangelium' by theologians, and is recognized as the first of about 60 different Messianic prophecies with over 300 references lining the pages of the Jewish Bible and becoming increasingly detailed as time goes on.
Everything about the story of Jesus hinges on the authenticity of these prophecies and on the validity of the biblical record. In our information-drenched, photo-shopped, metaphysically-jaded age, religious claims tend to receive fairly equal disdain. It is important to understand how different this was in the ancient world. The Scriptures of the Jewish people were regarded by them with sublime sacredness. They guarded them like a treasure map, for to the Jews, the Scripture contained a treasure far in excess of any cache of gold or silver. The Scripture carried what they considered to be an inviolable contract with the God of Heaven that set forth the promise of both a privileged relationship and an eternal destiny.
Consider how carefully they handled their Scriptures:
The Masoretic scribes (A.D. 500-1000) in charge of the Old Testament manuscript copying used a very meticulous system of transcription and had a deep reverence for the text . . . They had specific rules on the type of ink and the quality and size of parchment sheets. No individual letter could be written down without having looked back at the copy in front of them. The scribe could not write God’s name with a newly dipped pen (lest it blotch) and even if the king should address him, while writing God’s name, he should take no notice of him. They were so meticulous that they counted all the paragraphs, words and even letters, so they could know by counting, if they had done it perfectly. They knew the middle letter of each book so they could count back and see if they had missed anything. (https://bible.org/seriespage/transmission)
As difficult as it is for our modern, cynical mindset to accommodate the Jewish reverence for their Scriptures, understanding the significance of Jesus requires that we grasp their intense seriousness in this matter. From their point of view, this WAS the Word of God, spoken to them very directly by prophets whose authenticity had been confirmed to their typically skeptical minds. Carrying on into the Christian era, this belief in the authenticity of the scriptures was sincerely held throughout the development of Western Civilization. The Judeo-Christian scriptures were regarded with a reverential level of respect until just very recently in our history. While the force of a naturalistic and secular worldview has swept over modern culture, the grounds for displacing the credibility and authority of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are still very much in hot dispute. Skepticism about them has much more to do with the propaganda one has heard and what one actually wants to believe, than with the historical reliability of the data itself. The record of prophecy and fulfillment in these Scriptures (not to mention archeological confirmation, manuscript evidence, etc.) will give even the most jaded of 21st century citizens reason for serious pause if one takes an intellectually honest look at the Bible.
When we do seriously consider the record, here is what we discover --- Jesus is portrayed as the incomparable KEY to the problems and destiny of the Earth. If the historical record in the Scriptures is credible, then this account is the central and most important information of all time. If the record is not credible, then it deserves to be lumped into the dustbin with all the other religious fantasies of human history.
THE STORY OF JESUS IN 10 STEPS
Here are the important points to understand in the story of Jesus Christ:
1. A coming Messiah was predicted throughout the Jewish scriptures, beginning in the opening story of the Bible
2. Jesus clearly presented himself as the Messiah, was accepted by some and rejected by some.
3. The nature of God as a Unity (one God) manifesting in three persons is seen in the Bible from the very beginning. (Genesis 1:1, 26-27) A thorough study of the concept of 'Trinity' shows this understanding carried consistently throughout the Judeo-Christian scriptures
4. Humans, given free-will by God in a state of innocence, broke their relationship with God by yielding their privileged status to the Tempter, known variously as the Evil One, Satan. the Devil and other names.
5. The perfect nature of God as a supreme being consists of perfect justice as well as perfect love. The offense of His infinite nature and character required an infinite penalty to be paid to satisfy His infinite justice.
6. Because only God himself could pay an infinite penalty, this is the story of Jesus come to earth. He was called by many names, one of them being 'Emmanuel', or 'God with Us'. He was God become man, and in so doing was able to suffer the penalty of sin in the place of humans. (see John 1)
7. As God by nature, Jesus did not have the sinful nature that was passed down from Adam and Eve's descendents. This made Him a perfect, sinless sacrifice, taking the sin of mankind upon himself, and offering them his righteous, sinless nature in exchange.
8. It is this exchange that enables God's justice to be satisfied and have humans be able to be restored to right standing in God's sight. The theological term is 'justified', or 'just as if I had never sinned'.
9. This substitution of God himself to satisfy the penalty for human sin reveals the amazing love of His nature. In essence, it took God to save us from God. That is to say, God's love for mankind bore God's wrath against man's sin.
10. The only thing left for us to do is to hear this story, believe it and embrace it by accepting this free gift of salvation from God. It is simple enough for a child to understand, as would a means for saving the vast throngs and various types of people of earth need to be. But it also strikes at the heart of our inclination to pride and rebellion which makes this simple little step of yielding to and receiving from God a hurdle that is very difficult for many to get over.
CONCLUSION: PEACE WITH GOD
Now it comes clear how peace with God can come about in actuality. Humans are really at odds with God in spirit, carrying the guilt of rebellion and offense against Him. No amount of feel-good, psychological maneuvering or self-effort at making amends can bridge this infinite gap, and calm the inner discord we feel. But not to worry, because God has taken care of what we never could.
It is this inner dis-connect from God that creates a deep sense of separateness from God. There is no possibility of real inward peace when we are carrying this spiritual liability against God. Internally we know the debt has not been settled. It is not just a bad feeling or state of mind. It is a real spiritual state of being at fault. But it is God's own accomplishment of the settlement that convinces us that it is both satisfying and complete. Hence, our spirit finds rest in Him, not by trying to appease Him, but by accepting what He has done to satisfy and correct the problem.
See more about this subject on the GROW page.