This world can be a better place. God wants everyday people like you and me to make this world just a bit more like heaven.
In one small corner of His grand creation, God created a place that was a lot like heaven. He named it Eden. The Garden State was not just beautiful, it was perfect—a piece of heaven on earth. Pain was absent, poverty was unheard of, food was everywhere, and disease was nowhere … and best of all, everybody (well, all two of them) walked close to God.
However, being the humans we are, things went sideways. We tried to deceive God. This one act, this one moment changed everything. This wrongness called sin began to spread and multiply and reproduce like a mutating virus.1
But here’s the good news in all of this—life can still be beautiful. God is still present, and He’s doing good today through people who love Him and want to love others in the same way His Son loved you and me.
We all have this feeling deep in our souls that life can be different, that life can be so much more beautiful than it is. Families are not supposed to be broken. Children are not supposed to be abandoned when their mothers die from AIDS. Fathers are not supposed to lose their jobs. Women are not supposed to be held back because of their gender. And people should never experience prejudice because of their race.
God has a more beautiful way.
John Ortberg, in his deeply insightful way, explains the rich meaning behind the ancient Hebrew word shalom.2 The Old Testament prophets spoke about a coming day when God would change the way things are and make this world beautiful again; to describe this, the Jews used the word shalom.3 The word literally means “to be perfect or complete.” When the Jews dream about peace they use the word shalom. When King David wrote about peace, he used the word shalom. The word can mean safe. Or maybe this says it best—when life is just right.
A few weeks ago, I was hurrying to a meeting and knew I needed gas but chose not to stop. I didn’t make it. The engine cut out on the freeway. Fortunately, I had enough speed to make it down the off-ramp … but now it was uphill to the gas station. When I ran out of momentum, I jumped out and started to push. Cars honked as they slowed to go around me; I’m sure they were just trying to encourage me.
After several minutes of pushing and sweating and not making much progress, a man in a burgundy minivan pulled over, jumped out, and ran over to help me push. “Why isn’t anyone helping you?” he asked. I detected an accent.
“Because they’re all stinkin’ Americans.”
We pushed the car up the hill and into the parking lot only to realize that in my hurry getting off the freeway, I had gone right. The gas station was left, on the opposite side of the freeway!
“Get in; I’ll drive you over to get some gas,” the good stranger offered.
As we headed over I asked, “So where’s home?”
“Israel,” he answered. “I work for Intel.” His name was Ariel (which I later learned means “lion of God”).
He asked what I did. I told him I was a pastor. He said he didn’t know what that was, so I explained I was like a rabbi without a beard.
“You know, we worship the same God,” I offered.
He smiled and shook his head no.
“Really, we do,” I objected. “Last Sunday I even taught on a word from the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament)—shalom.”
“You did?” he asked, surprised.
“I did. What does the word shalom mean to you?” I asked.
“Ah,” he answered with passion, “Shalom means everything is just right. Shalom means life is perfect. Shalom means peace is all around us.” He paused. “But know this, there will never be shalom in my lifetime, or in my children’s lifetime, or my grandchildren’s lifetime. Never.”
“I’m sorry to say this, but I disagree,” I answered. “God promises shalom to everyone who comes to Him. He promises shalom to the Jewish nation. He promises to secure your borders and give you peace. And he promises shalom to Gentiles like me who trust Him and turn to Him. Ariel, you can have shalom.”
He thought for a moment, then said, “Maybe we do worship the same God.
Palmer Chinchen, True Religion: Taking Pieces of Heaven to Places of Hell on Earth (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2010).