The end of each year offers a chance for reflection and 2022 has certainly given us much to contemplate. At the start January, the UK was emerging from an unprecedented and very difficult pandemic period. Just as normal life was starting to resume, news broke of war in Europe – Putin’s army had invaded Ukraine. During the summer, news cycles were dominated by the resulting humanitarian crisis, which has seen up to 10 million people displaced. Brits were then subjected to political chaos at Westminster, leading to the toppling of two Prime Ministers. Autumn brought news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death. And the end of the year finds us amid a “cost-of-living crisis”, and widespread strikes.
There’s plenty to say about all of this, and much ink has already been spilled. Many of 2022’s problems will carry forward into 2023 and garner more media attention. What really jumps out to me as I reflect on the last twelve months is a common theme: a notable absence of peace. On the macro level, diplomatic peace has been shattered by the brutal war in Ukraine. Peace has been absent in our politics, dogged by divisions and instability. It has been missing in the economy, which has been hit with inflation. And it has been absent in the public square as culture wars rumble on.
On the micro level, peace has been absent in homes across the UK. Countless families are in the grip poverty, or on its threshold. People are unable to heat their homes, and afford food for their children. Anxiety is sky high. The pandemic continues to affect individuals through bereavement, physical and mental ill health, delays to healthcare appointments, unemployment, and more. I’ve found that people are struggling internally as a result of various pressures. In conversations I’ve had, I’ve sensed frustration, restlessness, and dissatisfaction. People seem to be engaging in greater introspection than they have in past years.
“A theme has struck me when I think about the past twelve months: a notable absence of peace”
On one hand, we shouldn’t be surprised by the peace vacuum we are witnessing. There have always been wars and rumours of wars. History is full of poverty, inflation, illness, and political turmoil. Other nations in the world face even greater challenges than the ones we face in the West. On the other hand, these past months have felt chaotic. They’ve left many people reeling. It’s no wonder introspection is on the rise.
At the end 2022, there are many big questions we might ask: Why has peace been so absent in different spheres? Why war? Why poverty? Why suffering and injustice? Why, after thousands of years of increasing knowledge, have we not found an answer to such things? Why is it that our hearts feel anxious within us? Why is it that the relative ease of living in 21st century Western civilisation leaves us feeling empty – desirous of something more and better than what we have? I think if we are honest, we have all found ourselves grappling with such questions. If not now, then at some other time in our lives.
As a younger man, I grappled strongly with these dilemmas. At an intellectual level, the explanations provided to me by our culture didn’t hit the mark. For example, I couldn’t believe that the reality around us – an ordered, and beautiful earth and universe, governed by various laws – was the result of a cosmic fluke, the ‘big bang’, and mindless, unguided processes. I knew that science provides useful ways of interrogating the world, but it doesn’t explain that which is most profound. Things like consciousness, and morality – good and evil. It also fails to explain the emotions and desires of the human heart – things like love.
“We gain nothing by acting as mere spectators, taking in the events of the world around us”
At a deeper level, it became increasingly clear to me that I had desires that could not be met. It is certainly the case that we can find happiness in our lives. We have all experienced the thrill of being in relationship with one another. We learn, we work, we exercise, we play, we laugh. But the happiness that comes with these things is limited, and often elusive. At the same time, we are all dogged by various hardships. We get ill, we fall out, we lose the people we love dearly. We cry and shout and curl up and wish we could just have some relief. With every beautiful and precious aspect of life, there is a downside. Nothing is perfect.
Perhaps you can resonate with some of what I’ve written? Perhaps now, at the end of this difficult year, deeper questions are at the forefront of your mind? Maybe these questions have been prompted by a particular struggle you’re experiencing? They often are. If this is the case, I hope I can encourage you. Because in searching, I found answers for the questions I had. At the age of 21, my life radically changed when I encountered Jesus Christ and was born again. In the Christian faith, I have found explanations for the many perplexing and heart-breaking realities of the world around us. And something even more precious than that.
The Bible provides answers for the biggest questions in life. It accounts for evil and suffering – the result of sin, a spiritual malady that afflicts the world around us and every human being. It explains our innate awareness of right and wrong – we are created by God with a conscience. It explains love – God is love and has made human beings in his image. It explains our lack of peace – we are distanced from God due to sin and missing out on the joy we are supposed to have. It also makes sense of the beauty and rational intelligibility of the universe we inhabit – God is its architect, builder, and maintainer: it reflects his glory and power.
“At university, it became increasingly clear to me that true fulfillment is unattainable through things”
Most significantly, Christianity provides the remedy to our deepest need. In the Christian faith, we find the key to deep-seated and unshakable peace. Something tee can’t find in anything, or anyone, else in this life. The Hebrew word ‘shalom’ is what the Bible uses to convey this idea. ‘Shalom’ is more than ‘peace’ as we understand it. It’s more than the cessation of hostility, or a sense of tranquility, although it encompasses these things. Rather, it denotes wholeness, or completeness. Something that transcends the situations and flaws of our lives because it comes from God himself. It is the state we are meant to be in.
We cannot experience ‘shalom’ – peace from God – until we experience peace with God. When we enter into this world, we are sinful, and alienated from the creator. Because of our sin, we are all deserving of judgment. And none of us can escape judgment by what we do, for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There’s good news though. God provides a means of rescue. He sent his own son, Jesus Christ, so that we can obtain forgiveness. As the famous verse John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
This is the central, and beautiful, truth of the Christian faith. God offers us ‘shalom’ through the person of Jesus Christ. By asking for forgiveness and following Jesus, we can get right with God for good. We can be set free from the power of sin and death, and enjoy the presence and guidance of God in our lives. This is what I encountered at 21 – a deep peace that flooded my heart and changed my life. It’s what countless millions have encountered in the last two thousand years. And it is what you can find should you choose to seek Christ.
“In the Gospel, we find deep-seated and unshakable peace”
This may all be confusing and unlikely sounding. But ask yourself: ‘could it be true?’ In the Bible, God promises: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Jesus said: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Ask God to show you his truth. And learn about Jesus – the book of Luke is a good place to start. As we stand on the threshold of a new year, there’s no greater journey to embark upon.