An Antidote to Discontent in Disconcerting Times
Review of 'Deep Peace' by Todd Hunter
Many years ago, my mother gave me a sepia-toned lithograph of an 1896 William Strutt painting. It depicts a child leading a menagerie of animals, both predators and prey, with one hand clutching a palm branch and the other resting on a calf’s head. Strutt inscribed Isaiah 11:6 — “And a little child shall lead them” (KJV) — on the painting, which he titled “Peace.”
A lack of peace characterizes the present moment.
We see it in the acrimonious way organized factions debate controversial current events, social trends, and public policies. These debates negatively impact our personal relationships, dividing families and friends. Regrettably, even churches experience division. Christians may be united by faith, but too often, we are divided by politics as well.
The lack of peace outside of us operates in a vicious cycle with the lack of peace inside of us. Disconcerting times lead to discontented people. In turn, discontented people express themselves in ways that disconcert the times even more.
“What comprises a heart at peace and one that lives in peace with others? It is a heart oriented toward and animated and energized by the kingdom of God.” —Todd Hunter
In such a moment, we Christians need to remember what peace is, understand why we don’t experience it, and commit to living peaceably both inside and out. This is the subject of Todd Hunter’s new book, Deep Peace: Finding Calm in a World of Conflict and Anxiety. Hunter is bishop of Churches for the Sake of Others, a diocese in the Anglican Church in North America.
Peace, writes Hunter, is “well-being in the widest sense of the word.” That well-being is personal, relational and social. In other words, and using the author’s prepositional phrases, peace should exist “within,” “with others,” and “for the sake of the world.”
Why is peace elusive? Fear, anger, aggression, and undue attachment to material possessions threaten our well-being. Peace eludes us when we experience pain and unanswered prayers, or when we act in self-centered ways. Online activity, obsession with failure, and FOMO (fear of missing out) exacerbate our feelings of ill-being. Hunter names these things “peace killers” and traces their source to “disordered desires.”
When we have such desires, we experience peace neither within nor with others. God’s kingdom, the one described in Isaiah 11:6, brings peace, but to experience that peace, our disordered desires must give way to a well-ordered heart. “What comprises a heart at peace and one that lives in peace with others?” Hunter asks. “It is a heart oriented toward and animated and energized by the kingdom of God.”
Living peaceably, then, requires heart work. “The opposite of peace is not merely conflict or war,” Hunter says, “but also anxiety marked by a noisy mind and an irritated soul.” Hunter goes on to write, “Peace is core to Jesus’ person and central to his work in the church and the world.” To experience the peace Jesus felt, then, we must become more like Him.
As we become more like Christ, our relationships change. Hunter describes it as a movement “from xenophobia [fear of strangers] to xenophilia [love of strangers].” He defines xenophobia more precisely as “the tendency to see personal qualities of difference and then to fear or hate the variation.” Xenophilia, on the other hand, is a neologism for the Greek word philoxenia, meaning “hospitality” (Hebrews 13:2).
The basic question is whether we cultivate “habits of heart” that lead us closer to or further from strangers — people whom God created and for whom Christ died.
Peace is not merely an experience that happens “within” and “with others,” however. It also has implications “for the sake of the world.” A heart oriented to the kingdom of God inevitably cares about the just ordering of society, because Jesus cares about justice. Hunter writes about the society-wide dimension of peace but does not develop the theme in great detail. His primary focus is spiritual formation rather than social action.
I recommend Deep Peace as an antidote to discontent in disconcerting times. It is both wise and useful and — given the present moment — much needed.
Todd Hunter, Deep Peace: Finding Calm in a World of Conflict and Anxiety (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021).This review appeared in the fall 2021 issue of Influence magazine.