What Does God’s Kingdom Look Like – Unveiling God’s Dream for Shalom

by Christine Sine

Next week I will start posting responses for the summer synchroblog The Kingdom Is Here Where Do You See It? However as I was thinking about this today I realized that before we recognize the kingdom we need some understanding of what that kingdom looks like.  So I thought that over the next few days I would post some excerpts from my publication Wholeness and the Shalom of God in which I try to flesh out some of my understanding of God’s kingdom.

  • This afternoon’s post is on God’s Dream of Shalom
  • Tuesday – Unleashing the Anti shalom forces
  • Wednesday – Shalom and the Story of Israel
  • Thursday – Buying into a False Shalom Dream
  • Friday – the Prophetic vision
  • Saturday – Jesus and the Shalom of God

I hope that this will give us all a context in which to remind ourselves of that wonderful overarching vision of God for a world made whole.

Shalom – God’s goal in creation

God’s story too provides a vision of the good life.  As James Metzler expresses it: “Genesis 1 and 2 is God’s portrait of the good life, the shalom life, as the Biblical authors conceived it.”

Out of chaos and darkness God created a world of order and purpose. It was a beautiful world of lush abundance for all creation, a world in which everything – the sea, the land, the sun, the moon, the vegetation and all living creatures – was formed with a God given purpose and lived in harmony, security and peace together.

This beautiful mutually dependent world that God created culminated in the creation on the seventh day of God’s rest – the Sabbath.  Howard Snyder explains, “The Sabbath is not a negation – merely the cessation of work – but an affirmation, the creation of rest, peace, shalom. On the seventh day God created shalom – the crown and goal of all his work.”

The crown and goal of all God’s work was life as we see it in the garden of Eden – a community of people living and working together in harmony and mutual trust, caring for creation and relating personally to their God who walked in the garden with them.  And God looked at all that had been created with complete satisfaction.  “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:27,28,31)

Shalom – the crown and goal of all God’s work – is a difficult word to grasp.  It really defies a one word translation.  Even though, as we have already mentioned, it is better expressed in the word “wholeness” than in the usual translation “peace” neither of these words are adequate to understand the full scope of shalom.  The second reason we have difficulty understanding the concept of shalom is because it represents a world none of us have ever  experienced – the world of an ideal creation where everything God created functions in the way that God intended it to – there is no death or disease, no oppression or exploitation of others, and no destructive acts towards creation.

Relationship – the essence of shalom

More than anything, shalom is about relationships.  It embraces all the dimensions of relationship that contribute to the wholeness God intends for our lives.  As the creation story shows, at the heart of shalom is our relationship to God.  The wholeness of shalom revolves around a personal relationship to a God who created human beings “in God’s image” and who walked and talked with them on a daily basis.   But it doesn’t stop there.  The wholeness of shalom is also about the relationships we share with each other.  God did not create us to live as isolated individuals but to live, men and women together in a harmonious interdependent community.

Each person was meant to reflect the characteristics of God in the way they lived and related to one another – characteristics which are highlighted in Paul’s description in Colossians 3:12-15 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”

The dominion given to human beings over creation did not extend to other human beings.  Poverty, oppression, injustice, domination or exploitation of any form exercised by one human being over another are the very antithesis of the image of God and were obviously not part of that original creation.  As the Lausanne Covenant states, “Because mankind is made in the image of God, every person regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age has an intrinsic dignity because of which he should be respected and served, not exploited”

Shalom is a corporate vision embracing the entire community around us.  Brueggemann explains: “If there is to be well-being, it will not be just for isolated, insulated individuals; it is rather security and prosperity granted to a whole community- young and old, rich and poor, powerful and dependent.  Always we are in it together.  Together we stand before God’s blessings and together we receive the gift of life if we receive it at all.  Shalom comes only to the inclusive, embracing community that excludes none.”

Implicit in shalom is the concept of “souls in community”, an expectation that we function and grow as God intended only in conjunction with others and in harmony with God’s creation.

The third dimension of relationship expressed in the shalom imagery of the creation story is our relationship to creation itself.  Human beings were created with the explicit command to look after the rest of creation – “to work and take care of the garden of Eden.”(Genesis 1:15)  According to Genesis 2:15, the stewardship that human beings exercised was not meant to exploit or destroy God’s creation but rather was meant to nurture it in ways that would enable it to provide the environment of shalom God intended.  In other words our first assignment from God was the stewardship of creation a responsibility which implies protecting as well as encouraging its productivity in ways that would make it multiply and be fruitful.

The Jews were very aware that God created the world to live in shalom – in peace and loving caring relationships, which is why they captured this imagery in the creation story.  Unfortunately they were also aware that something terrible had occurred to disrupt this wonderful mutually supportive shalom world that God created.

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