Shalom and Pastoral Care
The undergirding theme of pastoral care is characterized by the Hebrew word shalom. This is usually translated ‘peace’, but that is inadequate. Greek ideas dominate western thought. As a result ‘peace’ has come largely to mean ‘the absence of war’, a state which produces prosperity and well-being. But the Hebrew is more positive.
God gives shalom: it is always something greater than human beings can conceive or achieve. Shalom is mainly discovered through relationships.
Shalom has little to do with our contemporary preoccupation with the individual’s inner peace. Jesus himself was reported (Matt. 5.9) as having said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, people who generate shalom. Such people do not just prevent conflict or resolve disputes. By their lives they actively encourage the sort of relationship that removes (or at least diminishes) the causes of such struggles. To do this, however, the individual needs his or her own sense of support. Thus the concept of inner peace, which arises from God’s sustaining, correspondingly increases. The point is made by St Paul in Phil. 4.7: ‘And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds.’ The gift is greater than anything that we can devise ourselves.
Shalom is the foundation of the Christian ideal of pastoral care. The first recipients of this peace were fellow Christians. The felt tension between Israel and the nations is often expressed in the Old Testament. A similar feeling re-emerged as Christians began to explore the world that they inhabited. As a result they began to try to define who was in and who was out of fellowship. Much of the New Testament shows how they vacillated. The Fourth Gospel, for instance, is notable for the way in which it runs the theme of God’s universal love alongside the critical nature of the individual’s decision for or against Christ. But the universal dimension of shalom always lurked. Christians found that the definition of ‘neighbour’ could rarely, if ever, be restricted to their fellow believers alone.