We long to live in peace. Wars and hostilities, international conflicts and personal ones unsettle us. Toil that is endless, work that is fruitless, spinning our wheels at the daily grind – none of it satisfies. It all makes us long for something better – much, much better.
There are things that we intuitively know. We know that goodness is good and evil is bad. We know children should be protected and provided for and the elderly should be respected. We know that mothers ought to love their children and fathers ought to be strong and courageous.
No one has to explain these things – they stand on their own. We all agree that these things ought to be so.
We also long for a place where people live together in harmony and goodwill. We long for a place where everyone has everything they need – not just to survive, but to thrive. We long for a place where everyone loves perfectly – where self-preservation is no longer necessary and trust is a given.
We ache for paradise because paradise is perfect peace all the time.
But lately my thoughts about paradise and peace have been disrupted.
The news is replete with talk of terrorists being cajoled into blowing themselves up with the sweet-talk of “paradise” in the afterlife. The promise of 72 virgins and endless self-indulgences seems to be a big lure. This is paradise based on selfishness.
I teach a little apologetics class for my speech and debate students. They’ve recently learned that Buddhism offers “Nirvana” as a sort of paradise – it is described as “a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.” (Wikipedia) OK, so I understand the allure of ending suffering and getting off the hamster wheel of living and dying over and over – that would get frustrating, I’m sure. But to what end?? A state where there is no “desire, nor sense of self”…. Huh? That is not paradise, that is nothingness.
Our recent history lessons have been focused on the events that led a large chunk of humanity to embrace Communism. Communism promised paradise – a utopian society where everyone worked happily together for the common good – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot… How many bought into the lie of this ideology only to then be the leaders of mass murder in efforts to control their starving populaces? (…all of them.) This is a paradise for the “elite” (however that is decided).
All of these promises of paradise are false. They are based on injustices, lies, and “peace” for a select few that come at an exorbitant price for many others. All of these promisers believed that paradise must be grabbed. Seize it or lose it.
It’s striking, isn’t it, that Jesus, the originator of Peace, did exactly the opposite?
Jesus left paradise in order to open it up to us. Rather than clawing at his throne, he willingly, lovingly walked away from it so that he could personally invite us to enter into his kingdom.
The Almighty Maker of the Universe left his Kingly position and entered into humanity has a weak, vulnerable, squawking baby. The Word became wordless to tell us what we needed to know.
The Law showed us that we are incapable of earning the right to claim eternity at peace with God, so Jehovah Jireh – the God who provides, gives it to us as a gift, because it was his to give, not ours to take.
It is his to give, because this Sovereign King humbled himself and became the sacrifice, the Lamb of God to secure for us what we couldn’t grab hold of no matter how hard we tried.
The Just Judge became the Merciful Savior by paying the penalty himself.
The Offended allowed himself to be hung on a tree to be the Defender of his own and prove himself victorious – not just over a Roman cross but over Death itself. Death is dead – do you understand how good that is??? We cannot be condemned to death a second time!
And the kind, compassionate, Wonderful Counselor offers us a place at his eternal table- in sweet fellowship with him, and guides us by saying, “take, eat… it has been all accomplished for you.”
The owner and author of Paradise says, “come to me, and I will give you rest.” The Keeper of Peace says, “follow me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What a contrast to what we try to engineer for ourselves!
We all want peace. It is written on our hearts to yearn for, ache for, long for. But real peace does not come from our own making. We are as incapable of making real peace as we are of obeying all the Commandments. And so God has made it for us. And made a way for us to receive it.
The allure of Paradise is real and good. Eternal Peace is meant to make our hearts leap. But we can only have it One Way.