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Part 6 in a series on The Work of Our Hands

Seeking the Prosperity of the City

Imagine an enormous tent city on the edge of the greatest metropolis in the world. The refugees who live here have been forcibly taken from their homeland by an invading army.

They have seen their city sacked, their families murdered, and their sacred place of worship destroyed. They are bitter toward their captors and would rise up and break free if they could. This is the scene of the Israelites living in exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C.

One day a letter is brought to the exiles from their homeland. It is from the prophet Jeremiah, who was left behind in Jerusalem. The letter radically changes the Jewish people’s perception of how they should live in this alien land. Part of the letter reads:

 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

The key phrase in this short passage from the book of Jeremiah is “seek the peace and prosperity of the city.” The word used for peace is the Hebrew word shalom, which has a far more comprehensive meaning than the English word peace. In his book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantinga explains shalom as:

 …the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight…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.

In the Garden of Eden before the Fall, there was perfect shalom. There was universal flourishing, and things were the way they were supposed to be. Man’s fall into sin had a devastating effect on the whole of creation. It was as if the very fabric of the created order began to unravel, and the whole creation began to experience a lack of shalom.

The Old Testament prophets understood the depths to which mankind had fallen, they knew that things were not the way there were supposed to be. Again, Cornelius Plantinga writes that the Old Testament prophets dreamed of a time when God would put things right again.

They dreamed of a new age in which crookedness would be straightened out, rough places made plain. The foolish would be made wise, and the wise, humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower, the mountains would stream with red wine, a time when weeping would be heard no more, and when people could sleep without weapons on their laps. People could work in peace, their work having meaning and point. A lion could lie down with a lamb, the lion cured of all carnivorous appetite. All nature would be fruitful, benign, and filled with wonder upon wonder; all humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, walk with God, lean toward God, and delight in God, their shouts of joy and recognition welling up from valleys and crags, from women in streets and from men on ships.

As we have seen, Plantinga correctly defines shalom as, “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.”  Shalom bookends human existence. In our English translation of the Bible we call it peace, but this description is inadequate to fully describe the full meaning of this Hebrew word.

Scott Kauffman writes that shalom characterizes the Garden (the way it was supposed to be) and the eternal City (the way it is going to be), and so provides the vision for our existence in between.

In our next post we will look at an example of what it looks like to reweave shalom.

Question: In what way can you work to reweave shalom in and through your job? Leave your comment here.

Hugh Whelchel

About Hugh Whelchel

Hugh Whelchel is Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and author of "How Then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work." Hugh has a Master of Arts in Religion and brings over 30 years of diverse business experience to his leadership at IFWE. Read More...

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