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My sophomore year at Purdue University, I learned about the word shalom when my Bible study went through 1 Peter. As Cornelius Plantinga Jr. explains: “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight–a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”
Of course, I was familiar with the word, but had never understood it’s rich significance until that semester at college. Understanding shalom changed how I lived at Purdue and shapes how I now live in Cincinnati. “Adult life” is a different ball game than student life and I’m continually trying to understand how I can seek the peace, the shalom, of my city. In that vein, I share this article.
*Disclaimer: There’s nothing magical or extra-spiritual about living in the city. While Christians should not fear “the city” and some are called to “the city,” the point is to live fully where God has called you (rural community, suburban neighborhood, remote village) and seek the good of that place. As you read the following article, consider “city” synonymous for the place you’re called to live. For more on this discussion, check out this article.
It is not always easy to live, work, or worship in the city. Thomas Jefferson viewed cities “as pestilential to the morals, the health, and the liberties of men.” Things were like that in Babylon. In 597 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar carried many of the elders, priests, prophets, and people of Israel off to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1). The Babylonians did terrible things to the Jews. They destroyed their city, ransacked their temple, ruined their economy, removed their leaders, and enslaved their populace.
It is not surprising, then, that Saint Augustine (354-430) viewed Babylon as a symbol of evil. Augustine later identified Babylon as the biblical symbol of the city of Satan.
Most postmodern cities are like Babylon. They are Cities of Man ruled by Satan, and Satan is doing his best to turn them into suburbs of hell. One can see it in the abandoned buildings, the graffiti, the tired faces of prostitutes, the racial altercations, the slow shuffle of the poor, and the great buildings built for human pride. Satan has been very busy.
What should God’s people do when their zip code places them in Satan’s precincts? When God’s people were captives in Babylon, they might have expected God to tell them to run away. Or revolt. What he does instead is tell them to make themselves at home (Jeremiah 29:4-7). The gist of Jeremiah’s prophecy is that God is going to build his city in the middle of Satan’s city. He views the exile as a mission. Nebuchadnezzar has not carried them off to Babylon so much as God has sent them there. The exiles are not captives; they are missionaries.
What stands out to you or inspires you in this article? What do you disagree with?
How does this perspective impact how we view daily life?
What role might hospitality and homemaking play in spreading shalom/peace?
Who in your life is a “peacemaker” (one who spreads shalom) in his/her place of residence? How does that inspire you?
When can you seek the peace of your “city” this week?