The story is told of two rival painters who were always trying to outdo one another. One day they decided to have a contest to see who was the better artist. The rules of the competition were simple: They would each create a painting that represented the idea of peace.
The first artist painted a beautiful mountain scene with a lake in the middle. The lake was as clear as a crystal and blue as the sky. No wind or movement interrupted its tranquility. For the first artist, that is what peace looked like.
The second artist painted a very different scene. He painted a violent waterfall. The sky was dark and ominous. The wind blew across the canvass. Alongside the waterfall stood a grey, dead tree. A branch from the tree reached out in front of the waterfall. And there, on that branch of the grey, dead tree, in front of the violent waterfall, in the middle of the storm, quietly sat a small bird, unaffected by the chaos which surrounded it. The bird was at peace.
On the night before he died, Jesus promised his disciples and us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
Jesus promises us peace. But what kind of peace? God doesn’t promise us the peace of the first painting. He doesn’t promise us a life of tranquility here on earth, free of problems and pains. He doesn’t promise us that if we just believe or pray hard enough, that all our hurts here on earth will suddenly disappear. God doesn’t promise us that kind of peace.
In fact, he tells us, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Our road to heaven will pass through cancer and heart attacks, heartbreaks and hurt. We will see the greyness of death in the faces of people we love. We are forced to face our own mortality. The peace God promises isn’t the absence of pain and problems here on earth.
Rather it is the peace painted by the second artist, a peace in the middle of the storm. The peace the world cannot give is the peace of knowing that, because of Jesus, God forgives you and loves you even though you have said and done terrible things in your life. The peace the world cannot give is the peace of knowing that, because of Jesus, the tranquility of heaven is waiting for us, where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). The peace the world cannot give is the peace of knowing that our God will be with us, give us strength and carry us through every hardship and heartbreak we face.
Don’t expect that God will take away your problems here on earth if you just have enough faith or pray hard enough. That’s not the peace God promises. Rather find in our God – in his Word and Sacraments – the true peace he promises, a peace in the middle of the storm.