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Perfect Peace

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26.3.

A friend quoted this lovely verse to me in an email last night, and I have been reflecting on it ever since.

My starting point was “perfect peace”. What exactly is “perfect peace”? In the Hebrew, there is no “perfect”: the expression “perfect peace” is simply a translation of shalom shalom – “peace peace”. Repetition is used in this way in Hebrew to add emphasis. For instance, geber geber – “man man” – means “a manly man” or “a man among men”. So, I thought, instead of “perfect peace” we could translate shalom shalom as “peace beyond all peace” or  “the peace of all peace” … and that immediately reminded me of the final blessing I pray whenever I use the Northumbrian Community’s Compline before going to bed:

Be the peace of the Spirit
mine this night.
Be the peace of the Son
mine this night.
Be the peace of the Father
mine this night.
The peace of all peace
be mine this night
in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

In its broadest sense, the Hebrew word shalom does, of course, encompass “completeness, wholeness, harmony and fulfilment” and “implicit in the word shalom is the idea of unimpaired relationships with others” (The Theological Word Book of the Old Testament.) But here, surely, it speaks particularly of the stilling of turmoil in the soul, the banishment of anxiety from troubled hearts, the quenching of fear, the imposing of calm, the restoration of quietness and the imparting of a contentment for things to remain as they are (however unsatisfactory from a worldly point of view) for as long as the Lord would have them so. There is lesser peace than this, but this is “the peace of all peace”; this is “perfect peace”.

So what does God require of me if he is to keep me in this kind of peace? That my mind is steadfast. The KJV has it “whose mind is stayed on thee” but there is no “on thee” in the Hebrew and the verb samak can simple mean “to stand firm” not just “to lean on something”. It is a mind that is unwavering in its purposes and beliefs – committed and resolved to the course it has set. But not to just any old course. It is a course set through trust in God.

“Because he trusts in you.” Batach – “to trust” – means “to place confidence in”. When I really place my confidence in God – pin all my hopes and expectations on him – rely utterly on his goodness and mercy and unfailing love, steadfastness of mind inevitably follows. Then, so too does this peace of all peace, this perfect peace, of which Isaiah speaks … which is, of course, that same peace of which Paul speaks of to the Philippians – “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding”  which, he says, “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4.7.)

My wife often recounts how, some years ago, after I’d been taken into hospital with severe heart pains and placed in intensive care, she had eventually had to come home and found herself  lying awake after midnight, full of anxiety and fear and praying for me. At about one o’clock , not knowing what else she could do, she simply handed me over to the Lord and then, quite suddenly, peace was spread over her like a blanket. The anxiety was banished, calm was restored and she went off into an untroubled sleep. The next day, when she rang the hospital, she found that all was well and that, at the same time as God’s “perfect peace” had enveloped her, so my pain had ceased and my recovery had begun.

You will keep in perfect peace him (or her) whose mind is steadfast, because he (or she) trusts in you.

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