Today I have the wonderful opportunity to talk about our Christ-calling to be restorers of shalom for a Lasting Freedom webinar. The closed group is for people who want to know “lasting freedom” in regard to eating disorders and body image issues. The reality is that we all struggle with some sort of compulsion to fill ourselves with substances or behaviors that will never satisfy the longings of our heart (think Isaiah 44; John 4). Since the webinar is available to group members only, I thought I’d share with you all some thoughts on the story of shalom and its relationship to idolatry and addiction.
Let’s start with the word shalom. You may know it as a fancy Hebrew way of saying “hello,” or a cute bumper sticker: “Shalom Y’all!” The biblical concept encompasses something much fuller, really the deepest longings God gave us.
Here’s a little word study:-): The Hebrew word shalom and its variants are most often translated “peace” in the Old Testament, but the words convey a concept much broader and deeper than peace. According to the the TWOT, “completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment,” are states shalom encompasses. It also refers to “unimpaired relationships with others and fulfillment in one’s undertakings.” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament).
Now that we know a little more about shalom, let’s think about how it relates to self-contempt as well as attachments to substances, people, behaviors.
God created the world to be a place of flourishing for all of creation. He created the water, the earth, the stars, the fish, the animals, a cosmos teeming with life, and more, calling his creation “good” six different times in Genesis 1. Then he created male and female, man and woman — in his relational, glorious image, gave them a powerful calling — to reign over all of that wild life he had called “good.” He pronounced his ultimate creation, “very good.”
According to Genesis 2, the first man and woman were naked and unashamed. They related to one another and God, enjoying and being enjoyed. They worked and they rested; they were fruitful and multiplied; they filled the earth and subdued it. And they did it all, every day, all the time, in the powerful and loving presence of their Creative, Redeeming, Sustaining, Everpresent Three-in-One God.
That is shalom. That is what we were made for. Can you even imagine it for one moment?
In the beginning, fruitfulness and delight and work all flourish.
But then— the deceitful serpent arrived and tempted Eve to believe that God was holding out on them. She looked at the fruit of the only tree in the garden God had declared off-limits, saw it to be delightful and desirable (in a cosmos overflowing with delightful and desirable!), believed the lie, and ate. Adam, the man created and called to name, stood there as a silent witness, failing to intervene, then happily complied when his wife offered him the fruit.
The word “disobedience” conjures up pictures of school kids writing, “I will not shoot paper-wads” 100 times on the blackboard. (Okay, I know they probably use a whiteboard now:-). We need to understand Adam and Eve’s disobedience as outright rebellion, a fist in the face of God, disbelief in his unyielding love. It is arrogant defiance of the command God has given them, a bold move to do life their own way. Shalom: the flourishing, harmony, wholeness, and fulfillment in God’s creation is destroyed.
Here is where we see connections to our idolatry and addictions. What do we want to do when shalom has been shredded? When we feel naked and ashamed, frightened and full of longing for the way things ought to be? Many of us do what Adam and Eve did — we try to restore shalom — on our own terms.
Indeed, as Satan promised, Adam and Eve gained knowledge, and here we see the first moment in history of body-contempt. “Their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked, so they sewed together fig leaves and made loincloths” (Gen. 3:7). Have you ever constructed frail coverings of frail fig leaves in an attempt to deal with your shame? I have.
Adam and Eve knew their leaf-loincloths were flimsy, insufficient to cover their shame, so when the God whose constant presence they have enjoyed comes walking through the garden, they hid. Then they confessed their fear, then they blamed. Their disastrous attempts at restoring shalom, of regaining the joy and fulfillment of their lives, result in further alienation from God, His creation, and one another.
And finally, there are consequences to their sin. Both the man and the woman will struggle to bear fruit in the areas most unique to them. Dominion will be distorted into domination for the man; healthy desire will be distorted into controlling demand for the woman. For their own protection, they are sent from the garden. Forever their descendants will live “East of Eden.”
Sin, idolatry, and addiction all bear the components of broken shalom. They are all about healthy longing for whole relationships with God and others that has gone awry. We are naked and ashamed, and we try to cover ourselves — with clothes, work, ice cream, relationships, alchohol, volunteering — something, anything, that will make us “enough.” We don’t want God to see us, so we try to hide from him, isolating ourselves from any of his agents of reconciliation who might recognize the longing in our hearts and our desperate attempts to fill them. But at the same time, somewhere inside us is the sense that this is God’s fault. After all, Adam and Eve sinned, not us. Why do we have to suffer the consequences? We throw our fist in his face and indulge our desires, because we’ll just do whatever we want. We are left starving, thirsty, in the deep darkness of a broken well of our own making.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end here, but this post does. Stay tuned till tomorrow, when I’ll post the next installment. You really don’t want to miss it, because it’s the good news that follows the bad.