Last summer I listened to a Facebook Live conversation between Briana Stensrud and Eugune Cho, which blew my mind somewhat. They offered a compelling argument that there is a key difference between being a peacekeeper and a peacemaker. (You can read a quick summary of this idea on their blog here.) I had never made that distinction before, but it provided much food for thought over the ensuing months. We all know the passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Matthew 5:9 (NASB)

But — what is a peacemaker?

Is it someone who keeps the peace and maintains the status quo? Someone who avoids conflict and appeases others?

Or is it someone who works to cultivate wholeness in a world lacking in peace?

Shalom

The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, has a richer meaning than the “peace” that we typically use in English. In the past I often saw peace as an avoidance of fighting or a stillness. The peace that God speaks of in the Bible is so much more than that – it is a state of wholeness.

Source: The Bible Project

This is such a beautiful concept, and it really changes the way I see peacemaking. It is not making a world without conflict. Rather, it is working together to repair what is broken and restore our corner of the world to a sense of wholeness, where nothing is lacking. What a thought!

Keeper or Maker?

The distinction between peacekeeping and peacemaking may be one that is obvious to most people and that I somehow missed for years. But now that I’ve heard the idea, it seems so clear even in the words themselves. “Keeping” implies that you are maintaining or protecting something, while “making” implies that you are creating something new.

Peacekeepers are those who do not want conflict, so they maintain the status quo to avoid making waves. Peacemakers might ruffle some feathers as they work to build a more whole and healthy family, church, community, or even nation. One is an act of passivity while another is active and may even require sacrifice.

Unfortunately in my life I have spent too much time being a peacekeeper. I don’t enjoy conflict and confrontation, and avoid it when possible. But Jesus, the very one who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” did not shy away from difficult conversations. He spoke the truth even when he knew it would cause conflict. Rather than appeasing the corrupt religious leaders, Jesus chose to do the hard work of making peace for the whole world.

When there is no peace

Too often we are told to be silent in the face of wrongdoing “for the sake of peace.” The prophets were told that as well.

“It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace. And when anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash; [so] tell those who plaster [it] over with whitewash, that it will fall. A flooding rain will come, and you, O hailstones, will fall; and a violent wind will break out. “Behold, when the wall has fallen, will you not be asked, ‘Where is the plaster with which you plastered [it?]'” Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “I will make a violent wind break out in My wrath. There will also be in My anger a flooding rain and hailstones to consume [it] in wrath. “So I will tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it falls, you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am the LORD. “Thus I will spend My wrath on the wall and on those who have plastered it over with whitewash; and I will say to you, ‘The wall is gone and its plasterers are gone, [along with] the prophets of Israel who prophesy to Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,’ declares the Lord GOD.

Ezekiel 13:10-16 (NASB)

One of my goals for this year is to remember the words of Jesus, and the warnings of the prophets. I am determined not to cry “Peace!” when there is no peace, but rather to make peace wherever I can.

P.S.

If you would like to do some more reading on the work of peacemaking, I recommend Eugene Cho’s book, Thou Shalt Not be a Jerk. You may also enjoy the In Pursuit of Peace Bible study from Women of Welcome, which is available to download for free here.