Weekly Blog - Andrew Grinnell - Shalom
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Posted on: 11th July 2022
I am not very good at DIY. My adult life is littered with attempts to sort practical things out in the house that end in frustration and, on occasion, a worse problem than we started with. Take the case of the overflowing toilet. 5 hours after I had commenced battle on this ‘simple problem’ an emergency plumber confirmed that the toilet was now condemned. There are also the numerous accounts of assembling flat- pack furniture. Often, a little while in, I’ve exclaimed to my wife that not all the pieces have been delivered. Yet, after a lot of searching we discovered I had already incorrectly used them earlier on.
Now, if I’m allowed to boast, I’ve got better at the flat-pack thing. I’ve learnt that if you methodically follow the instructions, the various pieces can be constructed correctly and voila, there’s a new chest of drawers in the house that enables clothes to be stored in it. The instructions show you how things should be if only we have patience to follow them through.
In the Old Testament an idea emerges that talks of ‘how things should be’, it’s called shalom. Often, we reduce shalom in English to being about peace. A problem with this is that our modern understanding of peace can often be only about absence. We live in a peaceful neighbourhood when there is no conflict. A peaceful country is one that is not at war. A peaceful household is when the arguing has stopped. Seeing shalom in this way is at best limiting. If anything, shalom is about presence not absence. It’s the presence of material well-being, where all people have enough to be able to thrive not just survive. It’s the presence of just relationships, where we learn to negotiate the differences we have with others and learn to live alongside one another. It’s the presence of moral integrity, where we live in a way that is honest and straightforward.
Now, here’s the difficult part. Life is complex. It’s a rich tapestry of challenges, opportunities, and possibilities. Unfortunately, there’s no instruction manual that enables us to know exactly what we should do in every situation. The world in which the bible speaks of shalom is a very different one to the world we encounter. That doesn’t mean to say it’s irrelevant to contemporary life. Rather, it means that unlike the flat-pack manual, it doesn’t give us the specific steps we should take in every situation.
Yet, the vision of shalom in the Bible does prompt questions for our daily life. How am I ensuring that all people have enough to thrive? Who are the people I am different from who I need to build relationships with? Do I live with integrity? Am I straightforward with everyone I meet? These questions may not help me when it comes to making household repairs, but they hopefully will help me to shape a life and a world that points towards ‘how things should be’.
Andrew Grinnell - Urban Life