The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
– Atiśa Dipankara Shrijnana (982-1054 AD, Tibetan Buddhist teacher)
A sense of deep inner peace is a curious thing. We all yearn for it, especially on frustrating, frantic days, but on the other hand we can feel most deeply alive in its absence. Say, when we’ve intentionally stepped outside our comfort zone to do something good, maybe even important, but the step into the unknown brands the moment into our memory. This may be one reason why extreme sports and tattoos are so popular—when numbness seems normal, the rush and pain can be reassuring.
Jesus promised peace for his followers, which several of them pointed out recently when I questioned the importance of inner peace for Christians. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” Jesus told his disciples. “Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” True enough, I responded—but that’s not all he said on the topic. Later in the same exchange with his disciples Jesus told them he would soon be leaving them in a broken world, but would not forsake them; God’s Holy Spirit would come to live within 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.”
Peace and trouble is what he promised.
So, if by inner peace we mean a sense of bliss from being detached from the hard reality of a broken world, we have mistaken Buddhist enlightenment for Christian redemption. If by peace we mean withdrawing into a protected world of middle class comfort, we have mistaken the American dream for Christian obedience. And if by peace we mean sliding into society hiding the sharp claims of faith to accommodate societal preferences, we have mistaken worldliness for Christian faithfulness. Whatever the peace is, it’s not an absence of trouble.
Left to myself, I always choose wrongly, seeking comfort over messiness, familiarity over being stretched, isolation rather than incarnation. The inner peace this produces is merely a respectable form of addiction.
We live in a deeply troubled world. Following Christ means walking into that trouble, and that is always troubling. Always troubling, that is, except for a quiet confidence that the safest, most ultimately fulfilling, shalom-infused place to be in this troubled world is to be in Christ.
And that is to be fully at peace, always troubled; quietly confidence, slightly on edge; in the dust of death, fully alive. It’s at the intersection of fallen humanity and divine grace.