John 14:27-31– ‘my peace I give unto you’ — LeGrand Bake

After having promised the apostles he would be with them forever, the Savior said,

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John14:27).

In this world peace comes in many ways. Many are as powerful as they are beautiful. If it were not so we would all go mad. But the Savior was speaking of a peace that is beyond the reach of this world’s most sublime experiences.

Before we can distinguish the Savior’s peace from all the rest, we must describe the others. Each of us live in three worlds and we interact with all three.

1. There is the world where we have to deal with other people.
2.  There is a world where we interact only with our own thoughts.
3.  And there is an even more private world where we communicate with the Spirit of God

The peace like a child needs is the most fundamental of all. It means a place where one can be to find shelter, food, clothes, and people whom we can trust. Beyond that, the physical stability that comes with not being subjected to violence is the most important. Ideally, all that comes from a loving home with understanding parents. In a larger sense, such security is the blessings of a strong military and an efficient, reliable police force that enables us to live in a peaceful neighborhood. To the ancient prophets the prospect of living in a city without stone walls to protect it seemed to be a promise of paradise. Living in that kind of paradisiacal security is what we often think of when we speak of this world’s peace. But there are others.

Financial security for adults is a different kind of peace. It is having an income large enough to provide for the needs of oneself and/or for the other people who depend upon us. For a child it means being able to have an ice cream cone when the other children have one.

Those are the things necessary for peace where peace is not having external pressures that disrupt one’s life. But there are others that are also important to having peace in this world.

In order to have internal peace we must feel socially accepted so that we do not have to justify who and what we are.

A congenial Family is the primary source of peace for many where “family” means there is someone to whom we can turn to when our world is not looking so good. It often means having a confidant who understands our problems, who will listen and try to help.

Often as important as family are friends with whom we can share our interests, our pleasures and even our most intimate Selves. We need people we can laugh with, whom we can laugh at, and who can laugh at us.

Acquaintances with whom we are comfortable and around whom we do not feel threatened is vital to feeling secure in the workplace and in the neighborhood.

In all of these things, peace is a product of our personal freedom to think and to act, but if we abuse that freedom we restrict our options and blunt our peace. The primary purpose of a free government is to protect its citizens, but otherwise leave them alone and let them be the best they can be. When persons seek to disturb the peace of other people then the function of government is to provide laws, courts, police, and military that can intervene to prevent or suppress that disturbance. Otherwise, people are most free and productive when the government keeps out of their private lives. The tenth Amendment to the American Constitution says that clearly. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

All of these are the environmental, external ways we can fit comfortably into a non-aggressive society. It is the society and the people in it with whom we associate who make us feel secure and at peace.

However, personal peace is as much (sometimes more) a product of how we think and what we think about. There is a world where we interact only with our own thoughts and it is in that world where we find the greatest trauma or the greatest peace.

The disruption of our peacefulness is sometimes caused by very real noise, like frustrations in a traffic jam, the words aimed at us from some angry person, disappointments in someone or something we thought we could trust, like a friend who turned out to be a gossip or a car that would not start. In this regard one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains comes up with some of the best advice.

Things without all remedy
Should be without regard:
what’s done is done. {1}

However, passivity is only a small part of the peace within us.
There are three other kinds of peace that are equally important to the environmental security already described. First among these is the satisfaction we feel from being to other people the things that give peace to us

We began by observing that each of us live in three worlds. The most obvious is the world with other people in it. We have discussed that largely as an ideal, but that world is not ideal. There are all sorts of people in it. There are friends who share our concerns and defend our interests. There are enemies who would support whatever proposition that is not in our best interests. There are people who do not care about us. What is important to us never plays into their decision making. Often, we are about as interested in them as they are in us. However, it is they who may have the greatest impact on our character and our sense of Self.

They are the non-people we pass on the street, the store clerk we hand money to as though she were a vending machine. We do not listen to her when she says “have a nice day” in a voice that carries no meaning. She is an alien. We live is a world of aliens. Being surrounded by non-person aliens is lonely and depressing. I went into an office supply store just before it closed and asked the young lady where I could find something. She walked me to the rear of the store to show me where it was. As we walked we also visited, mostly about her interests. When I thanked her for her help, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Do you know, you are the only person who has been nice to me all day.” It was lonely for her to spend the whole day being a non-person.

I was no one special but I had learned from the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber how to overcome that oppressive loneliness that comes from being a no one. In his book, I and Thou, he observed that we treat some people as though they were only two dimensional, stiff and flat like cardboard. {2}

Some people insist on presenting themselves that way, but that is their choice and need not impose itself upon our acknowledging them as real people. Buber says that as we look upon the rest of humanity as three dimensional living people, and treat them that way, we free ourselves from the unhappiness of living in a cardboard world. If we acknowledge other people as real then we can be real too.

Several years before I talked with the young woman in the office supply store my realization of what Buber meant stunned me when I realized I was treating a person the same way I would I would treat a vending machine.

At that time I regularly went to a grocery store and frequently got in the line of a somber check-out clerk. Each time, when it was my turn I would ask, “How are you?” And she would tell me!!!! I listened, but inside I responded, ‘Hey, that’s a greeting not a question.’ She answered it as a question, as though I had actually wanted to know.

I had read Buber and knew the drill, so I would smile and listen as she bagged my groceries and took my money. Then, one day I slipped off a ladder, hit my foot on the concrete sidewalk, broke my ankle, and did not go shopping for several weeks. When I did, I saw that hers was the shortest line, so I reluctantly went there. When our eyes met she said, “Hello, I haven’t seen you for a long time and I have missed you.” I was devastated! I smiled, said something pleasant, and listened again as she told me her troubles. As I stood there, Hamlet’s words echoed in my mind like an accusation. “One can smile, and smile and be a villain.”

That conversation was one of the most important in my life because it hurt so much. I was pretending to treat people as though they were real while being cardboard myself. It was a kind of emotional imprisonment that precluded the freedom to be my Self and therefore it precluded the possibility of my being at peace.

There is the world where we interact only with our own thoughts. To be at peace in that world we must be comfortable in our own minds and in our own skin.

As in the Hymn of the Pearl and several places in the Book of Mormon, one cannot be clothed in the robes of righteousness until one first removes the filthy clothing by which one is defined in and by this world, thus becoming “naked” before God. “Naked” does not necessarily mean nude. To be naked is to be stripped of the insignia by which one is defined, as when a court-martialed general is cashiered. He is stripped of medals that denoted his honors and rank, but he is not disrobed. He stands naked, but not nude. So Alma asked:

28 Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.
29 Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless (Alma 5:28-29).

An apocryphal writing reports that Jesus’s disciples asked, “‘When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you?’Jesus said, ‘When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your [clothes] and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then will you see the son of the living one, and you will not be afraid.’” {3}

Minds are active. Sometimes mental replays of past events or conversations, or aimless wonderings through non-ideas can rise to the surface of our consciousness to produce a noise that is as annoying as the real noise of a traffic jam.

Many years ago in General Conference I heard one of the Brethren describe his method of thwarting that noise. He said he had a favorite hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour,” and when subconscious noise surfaced to his thoughts, he used the words of that hymn to override the noise. I use “Teach Me to Walk in the Light of Thy Love” for that same purpose. That noise is rarely bothersome now.

Peace is the power to be one’s Self. But there is a counterfeit to that peace which is the presumed power to impose oneself upon the lives of other people. For those who use the currency of that counterfeit, they use projected friendships as a guise by which to manipulate a subordinate or supposed inferior. In their arrogance they do not realize the transparency of their smiling mask. The principle is very simple: You can frighten others to do what you asked, you can intimidate them to say they believe what you say, but you cannot coerce them to respect or even like you. Simpler translation: around you I am expected to pretend that I am made of cardboard but in fact it is only an acknowledgment that your strut is only flat and two dimensional.

Similarly, there are professional and do-gooder religionists, Christian and otherwise, who, contrary to the laws of nature, use their religion as a weapon by which to judge and persecute others. They enforce their self-defined righteousness by every immoral means: ridicule, insisting on the norms of obsolete cultural morality, and government authority when they can control it.

Even in this world of cardboard people and self-appointed demigods, the integrity of honest people, when reinforced by the Spirit of the Lord, remains unassailable. The power of the Savior is greater than the power of fear. This is true especially for Latter-day Saints who have the gift of the Holy Ghost.

However, it is equally true for good men and women who have lived in all times and all places whose purpose was to increase the freedom and well-being of their fellow human beings. Many live or have lived in a time and place where the fullness of the gospel was unavailable to them.

Spiritual power is difficult to define, not because it is not real, but because it comes in a long spectrum of lights. Ultimately it is a gift of the Spirit. The problem lies in trying to decide whether Joseph was different from John Wycliffe or William Tyndale. One can argue that they were different because Joseph had the gift of the Holy Ghost. However, one cannot argue that Wycliffe and Tyndale were not equally willing to sacrifice their lives for the gospel so we could have an English Bible. Neither can one argue that their integrity was not empowered and validated by that same Spirit of God as animated the Prophet Joseph, but that does not mean that they spoke and acted with priesthood authority as did Joseph Smith.

The point is that there is a power that comes through the Spirit that enables people to be absolutely true to the eternal law of their own being and to the covenants they made before they came to this world. In our hindsight we can see their mission was a necessary prerequisite to the restoration of the Gospel, just as were the missions of Columbus and Washington, who were not religious leaders, but who also knew the course their lives must travel and left it to God to make things turn out right.

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All these ways bring peace to ourselves in this world. However, the peace the Savior promised is different from everything we have discussed so far.

Only a few moments before the Savior promised his apostles,

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

He also said,

18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you (John 14:15 and 27 and 18).

In a priesthood sense, to be comforted is to have the power to transcend all sorrow. The words “peace” and “peacemaker” come very close to the same meaning. To be at peace with oneself and to be able to help others be at peace also are among the greatest personal attributes one can aspire to in this mortal world. The Savior’s peace is that power.

Ultimate peace is knowing one’s Self, and in that knowledge being secure in a relationship of unfailing love founded on covenants with other people, but most especially with God.

John the Beloved invited the Saints of his day into such a bond.

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:1-5).

Helaman expressed that love when he wrote,

41 And now, my beloved brother, Moroni, may the Lord our God, who has redeemed us and made us free, keep you continually in his presence (Alma 58:41).

Mormon described it as being where the Savior is.

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ (Moroni 7:19).

In those relationships there is perfect love, perfect joy, and perfect peace.

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FOOTNOTE

{1}Lady McBeth in Shakespeare’s McBeth, Act 3, Scene 2.

{2} Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York, Scribner, 2000).

{3} Gospel of Thomas in James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1988), 130-37.

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