Garden People

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19–20 NIV)

In Henri Nouwen’s book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, he writes about discernment as it relates to God’s will: “God wants to bring joy not pain, peace not war, healing not suffering. Therefore, instead of declaring anything and everything to be the will of God, we must be willing to ask ourselves where in the midst of our pains and sufferings we can discern the loving presence of God.”

I agree with Nouwen that we’re too quick to baptize things that disrupt our peace in holy-sounding language. What Christian hasn’t struggled through reconciling what we’ve been told God wants us to have and the reality of our lived experiences? I think some of us are almost afraid to admit that God’s will for us isn’t suffering because if he isn’t in control of it, who is? What purpose does it hold?

Maybe that struggle makes more sense than we think if we go back to the creation story, a time when everything made was declared “good.” We find the account of God forming man and woman in his own image and housing them in a garden of perfection. And here we are—peering through the gates of a place where suffering entirely doesn’t exist, created to live within but unable to. We were meant for perfection, and now we must live within the shadows of what can never be. That kind of grief lives within us, but hope also lives within us – the hope of peace in heaven that sustains us through our temporary trials on earth, and the hope we get to share with the world that God is up to something right here and now and we get to be a part of the work.

In these verses from Colossians 1, Paul reminds us that God’s desire is for reconciliation and peace and that he accomplished this through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus, who is entirely God, has the power to reconcile all things to himself, both in heaven and on earth. This includes reconciling humanity to God, people to each other, and even all creation with itself. As followers of Christ, we are called to be peacemakers in the world, just as Jesus himself was. We are to embody the message of reconciliation and work toward peace in our relationships and the larger world around us. This means being willing to forgive and seek forgiveness, speak up against injustice, and work toward reconciliation where conflict or division exists. It also means recognizing that peace is not just the absence of conflict but an active pursuit of wholeness and flourishing for all people and creation. Through our efforts toward peace, we participate in God’s work of reconciling all things to himself.

While Jesus can give those who know him the kind of peace that “surpasses all understanding,” we can carry a type of peace into the world that transcends the barriers of our theological positions, always pointing the world back to our identity as garden people, tilling soil, planting seeds, and swinging the gates wide open. There is peace to be made wherever we go, and with it, an entire world searching for it. We can be the loving presence of God in a suffering world.

—Written by Sarah Sciarini, Director of Communications for First Baptist Church in Lodi, California, and NorCal NAB. She is also a part of EYELET, working to elevate the voices of younger leaders in the NAB.