These days (2013) have been filled with contrasts for me. In a way, we all face these contrasts, but when they are too close to each other, the tensions they produce literally move us from joy to tears. On the one hand, my baby daughter is now two months old. My wife and I celebrate the joy of her life and are thankful for the Lord’s blessing upon us. We are tired and somewhat sleep-deprived, but her smile brings joy to our existence and reminds us about the goodness of life. On the other hand, however, it was the second anniversary of my dad’s passing and I find myself missing him more every day. Dead is as real as life and both bring deep emotions that flow from the core of our beings. Why can we be so happy and so sad at the same time?
When my wife, Angelica, and I were looking for a name for our daughter we entertained several possibilities. I have to admit that choosing a name for her became more complicated than we initially anticipated, but at the end we decided to name her Salma Angelica. The name Salma has a Semitic origin and means “peace.” In fact, the Hebrew word “Shalom” and the Arabic term “Salam” share the same origin and in a general way have the same meaning. Our prayer and desire is that Salma will grow up to reflect God’s peace to everybody around her.
The biblical concept of shalom goes beyond the merely absence of conflict. Shalom means a peace that involves flourishing, wellness, and wholeness. Our good Lord desires that we enjoy the fullness of life (shalom) and He gave us the Prince of Peace to do it (Is. 9:6; John 10:10). Life is good and we are created for shalom. The arrival of our daughter is a testimony that God’s grace is upon us as Psalm 127:3 declares, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” My wife and I are blessed with our children, Dario and Salma. Every time I see them I realize that I am rich beyond measure, that life is worth living, that the Lord is close, and that He constantly whispers to me through them that He loves me.
Nevertheless, we also know that something is wrong in this world; we know that life is tough and it is not the way it was supposed to be. Sin has entered this word and has affected everything. Theologian Cornelius Plantinga refers to sin and its consequences as the vandalism of shalom. In many ways, sin is so common that we have taken many of its outcomes as normal or part of life. For example, a popular expression in this country states that paying taxes and death are two inevitable and certain aspects of life. However, death is not natural. Death is always wrong, always an intruder, always painful. The Bible declares that the wages of sin are death (Rom. 3:23) and nothing illustrates more the vandalism of shalom than the dead of a loved one. I can only imagine how happy my dad would be with his grandchildren; with tears in my eyes I can only picture him smiling with Salma in his arms or his joy as he teaches Dario how to play tennis. These situations will never happen in reality. Sin took away my dreams and my children will grow up without their granddad. Sin destroyed our shalom.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death (1 Cor. 15:56-57). Although we still struggle with sin and its consequences, one day Christ will destroy death forever. One day there will not be suffering, mourning or grief. The Lord himself will comfort us and shalom will be restored forever:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21: 1-4).
Life and death are mysteries that remind us that we do not completely own what we have. Life reminds us about God’s marvelous grace that allows us to rejoice with those around us. Only the “Giver of life” brings meaning to our existence and every day is a gift that we can open and enjoy in peace as we continue trusting in Him (Is. 26:3). Life is indeed a reminder of the blessing of shalom in our lives. Death, however, prompts us to long for eternal life in God’s presence away from sorrow and the vandalism of shalom. Death reminds us to live with hope for a better future. I know by faith that one day I will see my dad again. In the meantime, I smile with my wife and children and cry with hope.