Living and Dying in Peace

Gracia Burnham declared that her missionary husband Martin “died well.” Murdered in the Philippines in June 2002, he died doing what he lived for—ministering to Filipinos, his captors. Mother Teresa said, “The greatest aim of human life is to die in peace with God.” Yes, Martin died in peace with God. But he also lived in peace with God.

That was my aim when I was only five years old. Crossing a sawdust floor to the front of an old-fashioned revival tent meeting, I realized even then that ultimate peace issued from the cross of Christ. Now as a more mature Christian, I desire to daily live out that peace with God. I want to experience God’s calm even when the rollercoaster of life plunges from the heights.

In late May of 1983, when our son Benji had just turned two years old, he woke in the night gasping for breath. All four of our family were sleeping in the same dormitory room in Dallas, Texas, where my husband Neal was taking a Greek course. We quickly telephoned the campus doctor. He came over immediately and drove Neal and Benji to the emergency room. I stayed with Daniel, 3 ½ years old. I was seriously ill myself and confined to bed, having just returned from Africa.

Six months later while visiting friends in Michigan, the nightmare repeated itself. This time Benji was limp, fevered and stiff-necked. As I left the house in Michigan, my heart racing, I told the Lord, “I am ready to accept your will, whatever it is. Please tell me the outcome.” I opened my Bible and my eyes fell on a bookmark with this verse:

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

I knew in that moment he would survive, as he had in Dallas. We drove through the night to Toledo where for a second time he remained for days in intensive care. Both times my response was to kneel before God, alarmed, but bowing in submission to his will. Our son was in the hands of the King. It seems I can cope with about anything in life if only I can keep a peace-filled heart.

What exactly is peace? Someone painted a picture of peace, as a robin sitting on her nest at the fork of a fragile birch limb, bending over the foam of a thundering waterfall. Or how about white paisley-shaped quilt pieces sewn on a background of dark, jagged, turbulent colors? Peace shows up clearly when contrasted with its lack.

Peace emanates from God and his rule over our lives. John Calvin describes how the peace of God permeated the life of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were completely dependent on God, subject to his rule, receiving all from his hand, and so, at peace. But their desire to have their own way led to sin and fractured that idyllic sphere of existence. People have been spelunking in dark spiritual caves ever since, searching for peace with God, daily peace in the soul. I never realized the depth of peace that was mine as a Christian until I attended courses at a secular university. The unsettled searching, the lack of sure direction and the bitterness over the unfairness of life permeated much of the teaching and talk of professors and students.

Centuries after Adam fell, at the birth of Christ, angels declared “Peace on earth!” Jesus’ earthly life was submitted to his Father in every instance. He was the second Adam, the One who refused to seek control over his circumstances—even on the eve of the black horror of Calvary’s cross. His life was characterized by peace. He was peace itself and he gave it to others. The disciples heard his greeting, “Peace be with you!” He exhorted others, “Go in peace!” And before he left this earth he said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

The peace we all crave has indeed been offered as a gift from God, as we submit to Him. It will sustain us in the inevitable trials and suffering of life. François Fénelon, a 17th century French bishop and writer said, “Peace does not dwell in outward things, but within the soul; we may preserve it in the midst of the bitterest pain, if our will remains firm and submissive. Peace in this life springs from acquiescence, not in an exemption from suffering.”

That same willingness of Christ to submit to the Father, to obey him, is what gives us peace in our lives. We accept Christ as our Savior; we accept him also as our Peace. We accept all he allows in our lives. Peace sustained me when my son passed through two serious illnesses. Peace sustained the Burnhams in their fiery trial. To live in peace, to die in peace, can we ask for anything more?