The hero, a disappointment to his parents and a loser to everybody else, doesn’t think he’s worth much. Doubting himself and driven to despair, he meets the Wise One who sends him on a quest. But how could our protagonist ever beat the odds? “You have everything you need within you,” the sage tells him, “just believe in yourself.” Sure enough, against incredible odds, our hero displays amazing skills — even superpowers — and saves the day!
I have to admit, I’m a sucker for this storyline. But I’m not alone. Hollywood uses variations of it all the time since people, especially teens, love it. Why? Because most of us, at least on occasion, feel inadequate, misunderstood, and unvalued. If you don’t, you probably should check your pulse, because this is how the world treats us.
Some people apply the same notion in their search for peace. We are told that total peace is “out there” and we can seize it by finding the right person, experience, or thing. Version Two of the Universal Peace Advisory asserts that peace already resides inside every one of us, and all we have to do it let go of the obstacles like guilt or lack of faith in ourselves.
The problem with this plotline is it’s based on a lie. It says that if we want something bad enough, try really hard, and get our attitude straight, we can do anything. In reality, many things in life are beyond our grasp and control. We are not omnipotent. We have character flaws that defy the best positive thinking. As for peace, it will be found neither in temporal objects nor by trying to quiet the things that disturb us. These have their value, but they’re incapable of giving us peace.
As an answer to the dilemma, look at how Paul opens his letter to the Philippians:
Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus Christ, to all the holy ones who are in Christ Jesus in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Phil. 1:1-2 NABRE
The individualistic, I-can-do-it-all attitude would already take exception with the self-assigned descriptor, “slaves in Jesus Christ.” In the next verse, Paul doesn’t tell us to find peace in something “out there” or through inner strength, but in God alone; through the action of His grace and not through human power or design.
In Galatians 5:21-22, Paul lists peace as one of the fruits of the Spirit. Fruit doesn’t magically appear on plants. It develops after the plant receives water, sunlight, and nutrients. The plant takes time to grow, and in our case, this results from the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
Perhaps we can achieve a temporary, partial kind of peace in this world, but God alone is the source of real, lasting peace. A supernatural action requires a supernatural Person to produce it. Developing a positive mental attitude and letting go of negative influences are worthy pursuits, but let’s not have any delusion about their ability to create what only God can provide.