I YHWH and none else, forming light and creating darkness; making peace and creating evil – I YHWH do all these things. Isaiah 45:6-7
Peace – What is an antonym? Answer: the opposite. The antonym of black is white. The antonym of fast is slow. The antonym of leader is follower. But when it comes to the Bible, our usual expectations about antonyms are often misplaced. What is the opposite of love? In common culture, the answer is “hate,” but in the Bible the answer is “apathy.” What is the antonym of sin? We might say, “holiness,” but the Bible suggests the answer is “obedience.” What is the antonym of “grace?” It’s not “law,” that’s for sure. And what is the antonym of evil? If you thought, “good,” you might be leaning on the tree trunk of the Genesis story. Isaiah suggests something else. The opposite of evil is not “good;” it is “peace.” Why?
In order to understand why the opposite of ra is shalom, not tov, we need to go back to Genesis. God created order. Order in God’s creation is an expression of harmony, balance and integration. In God’s creation, this order leads directly to the well-being of everything created and the fullest possible relationship with the Creator. In the Bible, this is called shalom, peace. The introduction of evil into this harmonious existence brings about chaos, the disruption of shalom. Our culture considers good and evil to be ethical opposites, but the Bible views peace and evil as ontological opposites. The antonym “peace and evil” describes the existence of the world, not the potential of ethical choices. Peace and evil precede the ethical choices of good and evil. Even in the Genesis account, good and evil stand as possible but not actual antonyms. They only become actual ethical descriptions of human choices after the choice is made. But shalom exists as an actual (ontological) fact from the moment of creation.
You might say, “All this is interesting philosophical discussion, but what difference does it make to me today?” Ah, it makes all the difference. The Bible tells us that evil is not a part of creation, a fact of existence. It is the disintegration of creation, the collapse of what was originally and essentially at peace. Furthermore, this implies that the end of the game is not the Good, the True and the Beautiful (as the Greeks thought), but rather shalom, the state of the world where the lion lays down with the lamb. Our direction is toward the past, a return to the Garden of delight in peaceful harmony with itself and with its Creator. God is restoring peace on earth because everything started in peace. When I apply this fact of creation to my world today, I am directed to pursue peace. I am called to be the peacemaker, the one who brings the world into harmony with its Creator. I am challenged to stand against all the forces of chaos, disintegration, separation and dissention. I am exhorted to seek unity. Where I find brokenness, I am asked to heal. Where I find heartache, I am asked to comfort. Where I find schism, I am asked to repair. Peace is my project. It begins with peace with God and extends itself toward every aspect of His creation.
Of course, God’s peace does not mean peaceful co-existence with what brings evil (chaos). It means peaceful harmony with what He planned and desires. And that comes with a price. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
Topical Index: peace, evil, shalom, ra, good, tov, Isaiah 45:6-7