Peace Like a River
Penobscot River in Edinburg, Maine
Perhaps you can hear the song rising from the heat-soaked cotton fields?
I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river in my soul
I’ve got love like an ocean, I’ve got love like an ocean, I’ve got love like an ocean in my soul
I’ve got joy like a fountain, I’ve got joy like a fountain, I’ve got joy like a fountain in my soul
How could a destitute, abused, humiliated, oppressed, enslaved and homesick people who were forced to endure sun baking, back breaking work sing “I have peace like a river in my soul”?
Enslaved through no fault of their own, those African Americans epitomize the fact that peace doesn’t have to be an external reality to be an internal reality. Conversely, the absence of conflict, dissension, or violent opposition will not guarantee an internal sense that all is well with one’s soul.
There will always be those who want to dominate and subjugate others, whether kings and their armies, politicians and their ideologies, religious extremists and their fanaticism, powerful adults and their spousal, child and elder abuses, or children bullying others on the playground. There have always been murders, pogroms, wars, racial discrimination, prejudice, inequalities, and slavery whether against the Irish, Jews, Palestinians, Bosnian Muslims, or Native Americans. Countries around the globe from Africa to Asia and Russia, from Europe to Greece, from the Balkans to India and Vietnam, and many more have practiced ethnic cleansing.
Why does malicious stealing of another’s peace by manipulating, overpowering, diminishing, killing, or abuse bring some kind of evil satisfaction? We were created with a capacity to love God and others and were provided best principles and boundaries for living good lives, which included respecting and helping each other. But there was a wicked turn in Eden, where man lost peace with God and fellow men and became troubled–the results of diverging from God’s purposes.
Israel’s journey gives us perspective. Their national protection and personal peace were intertwined with God. Their experiences of oppression and slavery help us understand a bit about the dynamics of peace. The prophet Isaiah gave them this word from God when they were exiled in Babylon: “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;…
Disobedience, unfaithfulness, and cultural compromise defined their relationship with God and resulted in “unrighteousness”, the absense of peace, and their destruction. However, despite that folly, they were not left hopeless. God’s message continued with the hope for redemption and restoration but also with a warning:
Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it out to the end of the earth; say, “The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob”…“There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.” (Isaiah 48:17-22)
Like the beleaguered Israelites, all men will live unsettled and possibly disastrous lives when they exclude God and fail to heed Isaiah’s prayer and exhortation: You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:3-4)
Since we have proven ourselves frustratingly incapable of fulfilling the Law, self-effort and rule-making as an attempt to only lead to despair, self loathing, divisiveness, and self-righteous, legalistic, punitive attitudes and behaviors rather than leading to joy and peace. But relief is near! Whether we seek personal or world peace, the answer lies in a relationship with God that is more than an attempt to keep the Moral Code.
Centuries prior to the Christ’s birth, Isaiah called the coming Messiah the “Prince of Peace” because Jesus came to restore our broken relationship with God, to bring us the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), and to repair our human relationships separated by animosity and prejudice. His birth was announced by angels singing “Peace on Earth, Good will toward men.” The Apostle Paul told the Jews and Gentile Christians in Ephesus that Christ had torn down the wall between them and that “He is our peace.” (Ephesians 2:4) Jesus is Heaven’s answer to our peace-problem.
The power of love, and therefore peace, lies within hearts touched by the grace and mercy of God. Our leaders and we, the people, need a transforming faith that begins to comprehend and live out that great mercy, grace, and hope given through Christ’s payment of our sins. Gratitude for spiritual renewal and for reconciliation with God should be reflected by respecting, valuing, loving and forgiving others. Such a faith begins to fulfill the Law. It desires to love God with all ones being and one’s neighbors as oneself.
It would be a great day if we believed the truth of redemption and saw peace like a river flood this land!
Meet Chris Mace
Christopher Mace graduated from Bowdoin College and Tufts University School of Medicine. Served as a Navy Doctor in Vietnam and has practiced medicine in Downeast Maine since 1970. He is now an Elder at United Baptist Church in Ellsworth Maine. Chris is the author of two books, Listening to God and Dancing with God. You can read more from Chris here: http://sweetwordsfrommaine.music.blog/. He is married and has four children and three grand children.