Finding Peace in the God Who – Sometimes – Intervenes

Paul and SarahThere seems to be some conflicting sources regarding the symbolism in the Advent weeks (if you follow the symbol of the candles used to move us through Advent, some say peace is the 2nd week, some the 4th). Regardless, the time is right to reflect on peace and I am grateful to share our friend Paul’s words with you. Paul, his wife Sarah and their two kids are starting a new business to offer employment and freedom to women trapped in the sex trade in Kolkata. 

On 15th March 1993, on the street where I was standing earlier today, a bomb exploded that killed 96 people. This neighbourhood is in constant conflict over the gambling, drug and sex trades. It’s big business and the stakes are high. But while the ‘big people’ play power games, the ‘little people’ suffer in unrest. The violence and poverty is in your face and at times overwhelming. This morning we spoke with a woman with tears streaming down her cheeks, as she begged us to give her a job so she could eat. Sometimes it seems like the area is completely God-forsaken.

Then there are times when God intervenes and his peace is visible. Like when we sat on Lota’s bed, sharing tea and sweets, and listened to her tell us about the Jesus she was learning about at work. Her eyes were full of excitement. Then her husband walks in, and with a similar air of joy, he shows us his new audio bible which he listens to every day. Lota has just joined one of the Freedom businesses in Kolkata and hope is beginning to rise in her heart. God is penetrating the darkness of that broken community with a new peace. There is no doubt that God is at work.

This is the world in which we live. It is a world in tension between God’s intervention and God’s apparent absence. Both great violence and deep peace run parallel. We see glimpses of the kingdom of heaven while at the same time we’re surrounded (sometimes literally) by poverty, slavery and sickness. How do we live in this tension? How do we find peace?

This tension exists in our personal stories too. I was forced to grow accustomed to it from a young age. When I was 11 years old my Dad and older brother (quite a bit older) were climbing New Zealand’s highest mountain. On their descent a rock fall broke my brother’s arm and killed my Dad. In the following hours my brother was helped by forces beyond explanation to guide him down off the mountain. Like mysterious tracks leading him around crevasses in the glacier, a length of rope that reached perfectly to the bottom of his last decent, and an invisible hand holding him to the cliff in high winds. There is no doubt that God was intervening. But why didn’t he also intervene and rescue my Dad?

Like most of real life, there just doesn’t seem to be any easy answers or tidy theologies to explain the messiness. As I finished my second degree and celebrated my 30th birthday I was filled with more questions than answers. As I ended my time of youth-pastoring in New Zealand and packed my bags for India, I was full of more doubt and fear than ever. But throughout my years there has been something deep down that has remained with me: an unexplainable underlying sense of peace.

It must be the kind of peace that comes with holding onto faith in the midst of uncertainty. Jesus spoke about this kind of peace. He warned his disciples of the persecution they were to expect after he would leave them. He said to them, “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.

I love that in Jesus, we find peace. Not in our circumstances, not in our comforts, not in the world around us, not in prompt answers to prayer, but in him who has overcome the world. Surrounded by the brokenness of the communities in which we live and work, can we experience this peace? Through the times when God is obviously active and through times when God seems so distant, can we experience this peace? I believe so.

As we approach Christmas and reflect on the Advent, may our attention turn to the miracle of a baby who came to bring peace; a peace coming in all its fullness one day and a peace filling our hearts here and now.

My prayer this advent: may Christ’s peace fill us, may his peace flow through us, and may his gospel of peace infiltrate our neighbourhoods.

 

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